The Bailiff has clashed with the Children's Minister after he used his final speech in the States Chamber to hit out at an inquiry into child abuse in Jersey, which recommended splitting his dual role.
In his final moments presiding over the States Assembly before he retires next week, Sir William Bailhache took the opportunity to criticise a finding of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry that the dual role of the Bailiff as President of the States and Chief Judge should be separated in the interest of combatting what it termed as the ‘Jersey Way'.
His comments come as questions continue to be raised over whether having the island’s Head Judge as the presiding officer causes problems in terms of impartiality.
Although he “would really have preferred to avoid controversy”, Sir William said he felt it was his “duty to defend” the office of Bailiff from what he termed as “unfair criticism” from the Care Inquiry both in 2017 and at their review last month.
Pictured: The Bailiff took the opportunity to criticise the Care Inquiry's finding that his role should be separated.
In his statement to States Members, Sir William took issue with how the Inquiry had equated the fact that the Bailiff sits both as the Chief Justice – presiding over the Courts as the Head Judge – and as the presiding officer of the States – where legislation is made – with what it termed as ‘the Jersey Way'.
“There is an assumption by the Panel that the perceived lack of separation between the judicial and legislative or executive powers - in other words the office of the Bailiff - is part of this alleged culture of cover-up, unfair decision taking and decision-making in secret."
He also slammed the Panel as having “merely arrived in the island with what looks very much like preconceived notions and prejudices as to what a proper constitution should look like".
"It accepted unquestioningly the complaints of the present system often expressed by those who had no real knowledge of how it worked," he said.
Sir William said that the Inquiry Chairman, Frances Oldham QC, is too experienced to have made this connection between the Bailiff’s role and ‘the Jersey Way’ unintentionally.
Pictured: The clash was sparked over the Bailiff's last sitting before he retires.
“I cannot accept that a lawyer of the Chairman’s experience would inadvertently have drafted such an unfortunate juxtaposition of words… Her linkage of the allegations of lack of fairness and transparency in decision-taking by the Bailiff to historic child abuse was a grave error.
“I reject that linkage and the underlying assumptions absolutely. The inquiry had no basis for saying it and it is not true.”
His statement from the chair of the States Chamber and his reaction to questions from politicians afterwards has sparked controversy amongst States Members – particularly the Children's Minister, Senator Sam Mézec, who has previously fought to scrap the Bailiff's dual role. The Minister also says that he tried to make a statement in response to the speech during the sitting, but that he was refused permission by the Bailiff.
Directly following the statement, several points of order were raised by Members including from Deputy Mike Higgins who dubbed the speech “inappropriate” and accused the Bailiff of stalling questions and propositions relating to the Care Inquiry.
The Children’s Minister also raised a point of order, asking the Bailiff: “After a political statement there is usually an opportunity for 15 minutes of questions – will we get that opportunity with you, sir?"
The Bailiff refused this request – which was also moved for by Deputy Montfort Tadier – as he said that it wasn’t a political statement but a communication by the presiding officer under the protocol which governs the States Assembly.
Pictured: Sir William will retire from the role next week.
Senator Mézec, who has led the charge for separating the role of Bailiff and electing an impartial ‘speaker’ to preside over political debates, issued a statement following the Bailiff’s speech saying: “The job of the President of the States Assembly is to facilitate elected members in fulfilling their democratic mandates. It is not his role to seek to influence which policies are enacted.
“Where the government makes mistakes or adopts policies which are wrong, it is for elected members of the Assembly to challenge the government, and the presiding officer must facilitate that challenge, but not take part in it from a position of privilege where he is not able to be held to account himself.”
Although the Bailiff refuted the presence of the ‘Jersey Way,’ arguing that the Inquiry had “no tangible evidence” to support that such a culture exists in the island, Senator Mézec said that Sir William’s statement was in itself proof.
“The Bailiff’s statement this morning was a clear attempt to influence and a clear example of the Jersey Way.”
In addition to this, the Children’s Minister said that Sir William’s comments would “harm the healing process post-Care Inquiry.”
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