Tuesday, September 18, 2012
JOHN HEMMING - EXPOSES JERSEY IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
Today in the House of Commons Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming made the below speech using Parliamentary Privliege
I reproduce it in its entirety
It has various references to the goings on here in Jersey.
Anyone with half an ounce of sense (unfortunately this excludes about 45 states members) will know that there are some very serious issues that need addressing here in Jersey.
I am pleased, on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee, that this debate has been set up today.
Hillsborough is a cover-up that has failed, although it took a long time to fail. Sadly, there are too many cover-ups that continue to succeed. For example, David Southall’s experiments, where he made babies breathe lethal concentrations of carbon monoxide, were covered up by the investigator calling CO an “inert gas”. My constituent Michael Andrews has revealed how he has come under pressure to misreport statistics by my local hospital. The response of the hospital management has been to take action against the whistleblower.
There is a country where there are allegations that crimes by powerful people are not being investigated and prosecuted. A journalist has been refused entry to stop reporting about an issue. The chief of police has been suspended to stop him investigating crimes. Bloggers are being threatened to stop them talking about people. Decisions by the state not to prosecute cannot be challenged, nor is private prosecution allowed. The country is Jersey. The journalist is Leah McGrath Goodman, who is an American. The chief of police was Graham Power. Furthermore, Andrew Marolia, David Minty, David Wherry and Jonathan Sharrock Haworth have, with the assistance of the Jersey Government, obtained a super-injunction against ex-Senator Stuart Syvret—under the Data Protection Act of all things—to prevent from him saying things about them on his blog that are true. Mr Syvret has evidence that criminal offences are being swept under the carpet, but nothing is being done.
A lay judge—known as a jurat—called John le Breton has been allowed to sit as a jurat, even though he was vice-principal of Victoria college when he wrote to the governors in support of Andrew Jervis-Dykes, who ended up getting a jail sentence. Mr le Breton was appointed to judge on a case even though he is a personal friend of a director of the defendant—this is a defamation case where the local politician, Trevor Pitman, has been taking legal action against the local newspaper. The end result in Jersey is that part of these events has been struck from the state’s version of Hansard, and the culture of cover-up continues. Jersey is an independent country, but the UK Government have a responsibility for ensuring good governance in Jersey. The UK is not doing its job properly.
The UK is not as bad, but at times it has a good try. The situation in England and Wales is so bad that foreign countries are expressing concern about the abuse of human rights in the English courts. Over the weekend, there was a three-hour programme on Slovak television debating a case in England. In England, however, we are banned from discussing all the details of the case in the media. International conventions, such as The Hague convention and Brussels II bis, are predicated on the concept that each country can trust the legal system in each other country. As such, the country in which people are habitually resident determines the legal system that has jurisdiction. The existence of the Council of Europe and its European Court of Human Rights—it is not the European Union that deals with the ECHR—provides a body that can adjudicate on cases in the domestic courts. The Government of the Slovak Republic have publicly stated on the Slovak Justice Ministry website that they are willing to support their citizens in any case that reaches the Court. It is clear that the Slovak Government believe that there are a number of cases—not just one isolated case—where the human rights of their citizens are being undermined in England.
To my knowledge, this situation is unique. It does, however, raise the question of whether the human rights of UK citizens and others have been regularly and consistently abused in English and Welsh courts over a number of years. One recent Court of Appeal case involved a judge refusing permission to appeal because no evidence had been provided. The appellant had been given a deadline to provide that evidence by 4 pm on 23 September 2011, which they had met by submitting the evidence earlier that day, but the judge had looked at the case before that had happened. It is therefore not surprising that the judge had concluded that the evidence was not there. That was a clear procedural error by the court administration, but domestic proceedings have now been exhausted. The case also involved a citizen of another country. That country has not yet expressed its view on the matter.
A slightly worse problem is referred to in early-day motion 536. The family division of the Court of Appeal appears not to be correcting all the public family law cases that reach it and that it should correct. Clearly, if it were to correct more of the lower court’s decisions, questions would be asked about how well the system was working, but maintaining public confidence in the system is not a good enough reason to sweep problems under the carpet. Permission to appeal was granted in a case today, however, so that is not always the case.
The only objective analysis of psychological expert reports from Professor Jane Ireland found that around two thirds of the reports submitted to the family courts in care proceedings were either poor or very poor. However, that does not appear to be being picked up by the appellate system. My estimate, on a statistical basis, is that around 1,000 children are wrongfully adopted each year. One advantage of having foreign countries’ human rights commissions reviewing cases affecting their citizens is that we can try to get a better estimate of the total number of miscarriages of justice. It would be nice if our Equality and Human Rights Commission were willing to look at these issues as well.
Michael Mansfield has suggested that the country needs a “commission of truth” to discover cover-ups. My response, in part, is that we already have a body that can do more on this. That body is Parliament. Parliament needs to be willing—collectively, through a Committee—to consider a limited number of individual cases, to work out whether there is evidence of a cover-up. It would not take much use of the collective power of Parliament to identify where a cover-up had happened.
Over the years, our constitution has, to some extent, failed. That has created a situation in which matters that should be more widely considered are being left within the judicial estate of the constitution. That applies particularly to cases involving a lot of secrecy, in which people are prevented from discussing matters. I have already mentioned the fact that Slovak television had a three-hour debate on an issue whose details we are not allowed to discuss. There might be a report in the UK media today following today’s hearing, which, although anonymous, might give some guide as to what has been going on. In practice, enough material is available to enable a three-hour discussion on Slovak television, yet we in the UK are unable to debate the matter.
It is clear from my discussions about other cases that this involves not only the Slovak Republic and one other country; other nations are concerned about the matter as well. People are also leaving this country for these reasons. A Channel 4 report broadcast before the recess highlighted the fact that people were leaving this country because they felt they could not get a fair trial in the family courts in the UK. I follow such cases all around the world, and I will be happy to talk to colleagues about them if they are interested. Such cases demonstrate that the system is not working. However, I had some news today that makes me think that perhaps it might work better in future. These are complex systems.
From a scientific point of view, there has been a tendency to try to rely on unreliable opinion. I was a member of Birmingham city council for 18 years, and its deputy leader for a year, so I got quite used to the council’s operation. The Ministry of Justice believes that an assessment is the same, whether it is carried out by an employee of the council or by an independent assessor. I know, however, that councils are set targets. For example, Surrey county council has been working on its performance assessment figure C23 target to try to increase the number of adoptions from care. We know that the Prime Minister wishes to see more such adoptions taking place, and there is pressure on local government to increase their numbers. That tends to go down the management structure, and those people employed by the council are therefore subject to a conflict of interest. This is nothing new; it has been the case for over 12 years.
I think the Ministry of Justice is making a really big mistake when it considers in the family justice review that a report written by an employee of the council has equal merit to a report written by, say, an independent social worker. The advantage of having an independent social worker is that such a worker is genuinely independent. If a system is run on a cab-rank basis, some independent consideration of the issues is likely, which would not be the case if it was driven by the management structure of the local authority.
Anyone with any experience of local government will understand that biases and pressures are often placed on employees, and sometimes there are bullying management systems. The difficulty comes when judicial decisions are made that rely on that skewed information. As I say, this is nothing new; it has been going on for a long time. Hon. Members will be aware that I often bounce up and down about this issue. At least I now have some Government support—sadly, it is not from the UK Government, but from the Slovak Republic. I would prefer that the UK Government recognised what the Slovak Republic recognises, which is that there are very serious problems here.
I think this matter will go a lot further. Today’s hearing is very positive and things will develop from it. I am aware of the concerns of other east European Governments about exactly the same issue. They might decide to take a robust position in the same way as the Human Rights Commission did in the Slovak Republic. It is unclear whether any of these cases will get before the European Court of Human Rights so that we will see a representative from the UK Government arguing for the UK’s position and a representative from a foreign Government arguing from the alternative perspective. Obviously, if a matter is corrected in the Court of Appeal or in the Supreme Court, it will not get there, but it would be interesting to see how the European Court of Human Rights or the European Court of Justice, which I think has a similar jurisdiction for the purposes of EU members, will deal with this issue. This is a really big problem; there has been a really big cover-up, and it needs to be sorted out.