CHILD ABUSE: IS THE JERSEY ESTABLISHMENT TRYING TO SABOTAGE PROSECUTIONS?
Those following the Jersey media will have seen that Senator Frank Walker, Jersey’s Chief Minister, has decided that now is the time to begin proposing the establishment of a ‘Committee of Enquiry’ – a quasi-judicial process which can be instigated by the island’s parliament, and would work somewhat like a UK parliamentary ‘Select Committee’.
The purpose of this exercise would be to undertake a detailed examination of all the issues concerning the Jersey child abuse disaster.
On the face of it, this may seem a good idea; ‘why shouldn’t there be a public enquiry into this catastrophe?’
The answer to that question is all about timing.
As explained in previous posts, I spent much of the first half of 2007 pursuing my own investigations into child protection failures. These efforts ultimately prompted the Jersey oligarchy to dismiss me from my post as Minister for Health & Social Services.
During that episode, I had concluded that a Committee of Enquiry would be extremely useful. However – at that stage I was not aware of the covert police investigation; rather, I had reached my own conclusions concerning the catastrophic state of child protection in Jersey following extensive communications with whistle-blowers, victims and witnesses.
A public enquiry seemed – rightly – back then to be a good means of exposing the truth.
However – when the States of Jersey Police Force took me into their confidence in November of last year – and explained in detail what they had been doing – it was immediately apparent that they were going to expose the truth – and that there would be prosecutions.
Therefore – so as not to jeopardise that process, I parked the idea of seeking to establish a Committee of Enquiry.
Not because the polity in Jersey does not require such ruthless scrutiny – it does. And we must, indeed, have such an enquiry – but only when the timing is right.
At present, the Police have only made one arrest in connection with their major investigation into historic child abuse. They have stated publicly that they are going to make a substantial number of further arrests.
In theory – at least – this should lead to prosecutions – and in the case of the guilty, appropriate punishments.
But – that process – arrests, prosecutions, appeals – will take perhaps three years – and even that might be optimistic.
So – why not establish a Committee of Enquiry soon? There are lessons to be learnt, surely, and we need to discover the facts – and make necessary improvements as soon as we possibly can?
Well, there are several – extremely good – reasons as to why a Committee of Enquiry should not be spoken of now. Not least because the causes of the disaster – and the failure of public administration to deal with it – are already obvious to any thinking person. We know – even if Frank & Co don’t – what changes must be made.
But dealing with the main issues. Firstly, the public enquiry would be a quasi-judicial process. We must ask, therefore, how appropriate would it be to establish such a body which would be working in parallel with the on-going police investigations, charges and prosecutions?
Obviously – it is quite impossible to see these two processes working on the same subject matter – simultaneously – without badly damaging the prosecutions.
Such an exercise would risk seriously distracting from – and more significantly, contaminating and hindering – the efforts of the Police.
But – even if the Committee of Enquiry was not actually put into action now – but instead its establishment was simply agreed – this process – the public discussion – and the political debate in the islands parliament – would seriously run the risk of furnishing defence lawyers with a variety of reasons for asserting their clients wouldn’t get a fair trial.
Further – even if the suggested Committee of Enquiry were to be established – surely we should have a good understanding of the facts – an informed grasp of the issues – to enable us to draw-up appropriate Terms of Reference for the Committee?
We could only be fully informed of these considerations – after the conclusion of any criminal trials. For it will be, in court, that a great deal of the important information will emerge.
So – on these grounds alone – now is simply the wrong time to be even speaking of a Committee of Enquiry.
But – there is a far more profoundly worrying dimension to this proposal. .
Now, brace yourselves – I don’t think Frank Walker is culpable for this huge error.
He will have been advised to take forward the concept of a Committee of Enquiry by various – very senior – Jersey establishment figures.
And one can – very easily – speculate as to the motives behind such “advice”.
Forgive me for going into boring, technical matters – but these are of fundamental importance.
I am going to quote some pieces of Jersey legislation.
And my reason for doing so is to demonstrate a stark – and profoundly disturbing – fact.
Which is this:
Any person summoned before a Committee of Enquiry, or who gives evidence to such a committee – immediately gains immunity from criminal prosecution for any matter being considered by the Committee.
So – have a quick read of the law quotes below – and understand this:
If – by some chance – the States were to embark upon a Committee of Enquiry – before all of the judicial processes were exhausted – potentially guilty people – maybe abusers, or those who have perverted the course of justice by concealing such abuse, or who have committed Misconduct in Public Office – will become beyond the reach of the Law – beyond justice by dint of the immunity from prosecution conferred upon them by the Committee of Enquiry.
Here are some of the relevant legal quotes:
34 Immunity from legal proceedings:
No civil or criminal proceedings may be instituted against any member of the States –
(a) for any words spoken before or written in a report to the States or a committee or panel established under standing orders; or
(b) by reason of any other matter or thing brought by the member before or within the States or any such committee or panel by petition, proposition or otherwise.
In plain English this means that any member of the States of Jersey – and this includes – really rather fascinatingly – unelected members of the States, such as the Law Officers – will become immune from prosecutions.
But of greater concern is the following piece of legislation which has the same effect – that of conferring immunity from criminal actions – upon any member of the public – this including public employees and senior civil servants, for example – who comes before a Committee of Enquiry.
8 Privileges and immunity of person appearing before or producing documents to a committee of inquiry:
(1) A person asked or required to give evidence or produce documents before a committee of inquiry shall be entitled, in respect of such evidence and documents, to legal professional privilege and privilege against self-incrimination.
(2) An answer given by a person to a question put to that person, or an oral or written statement made by that person, or a document produced by a person in the course of his or her appearance before a committee of inquiry shall not, except in the case of proceedings for the offence of perjury or for an offence under these Regulations, be admissible in evidence against that person in any civil or criminal proceedings.
(3) Paragraph (2) shall not apply to evidence given or documents produced by that person which he or she knows to be untrue.
So what does all this mean?
It means that perhaps dozens of potentially guilty people – abusers and those who concealed abuse – will – with one mighty bound – become immune to prosecution for their offences.
The victims will – again – be betrayed.
It’s a very “clever” wheeze – isn’t it?
I could name a variety of people who will be praying for the States assembly and the Jersey Council of Ministers to be that stupid.
Frank has claimed that he simply wants to get agreement to the establishment of such a Committee; not actually launch it whilst the criminal and judicial processes are continuing. But there is simply no point – absolutely no good could come of – the States even debating the topic now.
Of course, Frank’s motives are probably quite “innocent” in that it’s a text-book move from the political spin-doctors hand-book:
“Government in crisis? Right – let us show our mastery of events by establishing an “independent inquiry””.
I’m inclined to believe that Frank is guilty of the spin – but not the more dangerous objective of compromising prosecutions – and conferring criminal immunity upon those who should feel the full weight of the law.
I could not, though, express the same opinion of those who have advised him in this matter.
Their motives – I am sure – are altogether darker.
The Jersey Council of Ministers is meeting tomorrow, that is, Thursday, 27th March, and will be considering the idea of the Committee of Enquiry.
Let us hope that wiser council will prevail – and they recognise that such a Political – quasi-judicial – investigation must be put back upon the shelf – until such time as the criminal aspects of this disaster have run their course.
A process likely to take several years.