Attac Jersey is a Member of the International Tax Justice Network. We are Members of the Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions for the Benefit of Citizens, (ATTAC) and the Tax Justice Network, (TJN). The aims of both organisations are to research, educate and campaign to further public awareness. We are seeking to alleviate poverty through the creation of just taxation systems to fund social goods.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Split Bailiff’s role in three: Civic head, speaker and senior judge

December 30, 2010 – 3:00 pm,  letter to the editor, JEP

From Nick Le Cornu,  

LORD Carswell’s report into the role of the Crown Officers is a timid republican document.
Its central recommendation that the Bailiff merely no longer preside as speaker of the States Assembly, is carefully crafted to the expediency of what is palatable to faint hearted States Members. 

The report fails, as it should, to recommend the creation of three distinct institutions, that of civic head, speaker of the legislature and senior Judge, unencumbered by multiple post holding by one person. They will come because these are the hallmarks of modern western democratic political systems.

Much of the defence of the status quo is by reference to heritage and tradition. This is simply myth making. Who can name a Bailiff pre-1940 let alone list two of his achievements?

Hanging on to the status quo is just not an option. The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights clearly endorses the traditional concept of the separation of powers; that the three functions of government – legislative, executive and judicial – should be conferred to a separate body or authority, so that no individual should be a member of more than one of them. 

Sooner or later the present arrangements will fall foul of a critical legal judgment. The British government will exercise its authority, as it did over the constitution of Sark, to effect change, leading to inevitable humiliation for the Island. Jersey’s political class is rapidly becoming a liability because they cannot recognise when change is necessary, preferring bull headed obstinacy to pragmatism. 

In his recent interview with the BBC, Sir Philip Bailhache remarked: ‘If the Bailiff is no longer President of the States, a chain of reaction will begin and as night follows day that will change the constitutional arrangements for ever and the Bailiff will no longer be the civic head of the Island and something I believe will have been lost.’ 

One could easily dismiss such remarks as reactionary and apocalyptic – Après moi le déluge. I believe he is prescient in pointing out that once change begins it will not stop. 
Sir Philip is also correct to warn against retaining the Bailiff as civic head yet having an elected president of the States Assembly. This sweet compromise will crumble to dust. The choice he presents as one between irreversible change or the status quo, is really one between embracing modernity or preservation of the Ancien Régime. The day of democratic reckoning is close.

Sir Philip likens reforming the Bailiff’s role to that of abolishing constitutional monarchy. Curiously he suggests that the issue be put in the form of a referendum. Why this democratic gesture? 

Ought Louis XVI to have consulted the People if he could remain King when his ancestors had ruled France for 200 years? Perhaps we should be reminded of the words of Saint-Just in his speech to the Convention in 1792 that a king ‘doit régner ou mourir… On ne peut point régner innocemment.’ 

The real reason the political class favours a referendum is that they know they can easily win given there is 80% electoral abstention. It is not an acknowledgement of popular sovereignty, more a cynical manoeuvre of managing public opinion to endorse elite interests. Needless to say, a referendum in which only 20% vote does not confer legitimacy.

It is evident that the Jersey polity is a blocked one, with Crown Officers and a section of the States Assembly, being not just hostile to democratic reforms but intellectually bereft of their necessity. At stake is the issue of power. The political elite recognise their authority is insecure resting as it does on an indecent handful of votes from the wealthy in an electoral system designed to exclude participation. 

Sir Philip’s conduct in entering the political arena on this issue personifies precisely what it wrong with the present system. He may be an ex-Bailiff, but he comments whilst still a serving judge in the Jersey Court of Appeal. He also alludes enigmatically in his interview (JEP, 18 December) to a possible future political career.
Does this mean he will replace the white cockade of monarchy with that of the tricoleur, and step forth into the democratic era as Citizen Bailhache? 

Aux urnes citoyens.

Article posted on 30th December 2010

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