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“The sooner an ombudsman with effective power is brought in, the better”

“The sooner an ombudsman with effective power is brought in, the better”

Friday 27 November 2020

“The sooner an ombudsman with effective power is brought in, the better”


The chair of an independent panel tasked with investigating complaints about public services has called for “an ombudsman with effective power” to be appointed urgently.

Geoffrey Crill accused the Government of deliberately obstructing the States Complaints Board and said it does not wish to maintain “an independent, transparent oversight of its processes."

Hi comments came after the Government refused to make any submission or to send anyone as a representative to a hearing yesterday, claiming the Board didn’t have the jurisdiction to hear the complaint in question, which related to the recruitment process in Health and Community Services.

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Pictured: The Government said the Board had no jurisdiction to hear the complaint.

The complainant told the Panel that his complaint was two-fold, it included not only the original complaint but also the way it had been handled “over such a protracted time."

“I do not believe that the complaint would have been addressed at all had I not approached the Complaints Board,” he said. “I am not satisfied the Government took the matter seriously.”

Following a request for comment from Express, the Government said that when the complaint had been submitted, the internal complaints procedure hadn’t been fully exhausted, and that they had said they would seek to do this. However, when the process was completed, they concluded there was no further reason to investigate.

They pledged to cooperate fully with the request from the Board if parties agree the case is a matter for the SCB.

At the beginning of the hearing, Mr Crill said it was “quite inappropriate” for any Complaints Board to take a year to arrive to a hearing, even when taking into account the “exceptional circumstances” of the pandemic. 

Describing the essence of the Complaints Board, he said it provided members of the public with “a speedy, informal, independent, transparent means to ask the administration to justify its decisions."

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Pictured: Geoffrey Crill said the Complaints Board provided members of the public with “a speedy, informal, independent, transparent mean to ask the administration to justify its decisions."

He went on to say that the law which established the Board has been on the statute books for 40 years and has not been changed during that time, suggesting that “successive administrations have welcomed the existence of a transparent and independent means of examining it."

However, the Panel Chair said the current administration had “deliberately obstructed” the board by its refusal to engage in the process, which he said brought into question “the whole trust of the administration in its oversight status."

He said the great strength of the board was that it had no power, meaning its decisions, findings and recommendations have no immediate consequences, providing “a free environment on which all decisions can be examined."

“For the process to be obstructed does to my mind suggest that the Government is not willing to maintain an independent transparent oversight of its processes,” he added.

“If that is indeed the case the sooner an ombudsman with effective power is brought in, the better.”

The States Assembly agreed in principle to set up a Jersey Public Services Ombudsman (JPSO) to hear complaints against the government in 2018 but the Legislation Advisory Panel (LAP) – a group of politicians tasked with considering legislation matters that do not fall under the responsibility of a particular Minister – decided not to support that view.

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Pictured: The States Assembly agreed in principle to set up a Jersey Public Services Ombudsman (JPSO) to hear complaints against the government in 2018.

Mr Crill warned the Government that the “laxities” it has been afforded in the past for its responses to be filed would not be tolerated under an Ombudsman. “A time limit will mean a time limit and if it is not adhered to, the process will continue,” he said.

“I hope the Government will take these comments in the spirit they are intended, which is, ‘Please do not step back from this process please embrace it as the original intention was… We want to be a cooperative, supportive and scrutinising part of the administration not an opponent to it.”

Graham Charsley, the Associate Director for People and Corporate Services, said that the complaints processes had changed since the complainant had submitted his, ensuring that people are kept informed of the complaints process.

Sylvia Roberts, the Director of Civil Division at the Law Officers' Department, explained the complainant should have contacted the States Employment Board (SEB) rather than the Complaints Board about his grievances.

Mr Crill questioned how the SEB, which sets procedure for recruitment, could investigate a complaint into the recruitment process - and Ms Roberts replied it only sets “the overarching recruitment and HR processes” and does not get involved in the actual process.

The complainant rejected the view that the SEB would be the right body to go to, saying it didn’t have “enough distance” to give the confidence his complaint would be properly investigated.

 

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Posted by Sarah Simon on
“an ombudsman with effective power”
My family only spoke about this yesterday. Our Government literally are a law into themselves.
I hope this is suggestion is taken seriously, although, that is going to be one very busy ombudsman!
Posted by John Henwood on
Well said Mr Crill. You and your panel have done an excellent job attempting to remedy maladministration in government, but more often than not the offending department - Health and Infrastructure are two recent cases in point - simply sticks up a metaphorical two fingers and completely refuses to comply with your judgements. This is a stain on government whose behaviour in this case is utterly disgraceful. They want to hide their malfeasance. Open government - a pipe dream!
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