DEPUTY BOB HILL presented yet another Complaints Board today on behalf of a member of the public (or more correctly a family) from Trinity.
As is so often the case, it was against the administration of the Planning Department and concerned an enforcement order requiring the demolition of a boundary wall.
Few people will realise just how much work is involved in putting together a case for such a simple-sounding hearing by the likes of Bob Hill or the amount of stress that is caused to those who have the grievance.
Jersey, only about a dozen such cases make it each year to a full Board hearing and some might conclude that this reflects the high standards of our various government departments.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, there should be hundreds of such cases heard each year for a population of 92,000 but the whole system of
Jersey government and administration is loaded against the public.
Complaints are actively discouraged at all levels so that the construction of a simple wall can become the issue that ruins lives, destroys friendships and breaks any trust with the political system.
Obviously, the basis for a complaint might be simple, complicated, not so serious or a matter of very great importance and/or cost.
Jersey’s Complaints Board procedure is totally inadequate to deal with the myriad of irritations that arise each and every day between the public and its government or in the consumerist market-place
In other places, there are all sorts of specialist bodies (sometimes called Ombudsmen) to deal with specific aspect s of administration by governments departments such as health, social security and pensions, planning and building, housing, taxation etc etc besides others that deal with private grievances arising with insurance companies, banking, lawyers, consumer issues and Utility companies supplying water, electricity and gas.
Its terms of reference are far too narrow and the team of volunteer panellists are just simply not pro-active in seeking out the matters that are causing grief to the public. Even when a positive decision is made – it cannot be enforced.
The Complaints Board system is grossly under-resourced, is not fully independent (it operates through the States’ Greffe) and is hardly ever advertised or promoted. Very few States Members have the interest or ability to research or present a grievance on behalf of a member of the public and there is no Legal Aid available to engage a lawyer – although States Departments can call upon the Crown Officers etc as felt necessary for legal help.
Jersey likes to claim that the Complaints Board system satisfies international human rights obligations by providing an appeal system against administrative decisions. But this is just a sad joke and a mere pretence.
In other places similar Boards have the power and duty to initiate hearings even where no complaint has been made or to call departments to account, to enforce decisions and even to prosecute where the law has been broken.
When Complaints Boards are initiated they are almost always supposed to take place in public. Yet the Greffe hardly ever announces when and where they are to take place and today’s Board did not even meet at the agreed time and place! There is no Press prior- announcement of Board hearings and details are not even posted in the
notice box. Hearings cannot be filmed, recorded or broadcast. States Building
Once hearings have taken place there is no comprehensive archive of previous decisions or even an indexed list to guide potential complainants regarding precedents.
A recent decision declared that Boards are not constituted to hear complaints based upon human rights arguments!
Coupled with the inadequacy of the Complaints Board system are the deficiencies of the Jersey legal system (cost, lack of clarity, shortage of published information), limitations of the CAB service, shortage of published information by government departments, absence of Jersey NGOs or political parties and the refusal of the entire States’ Scrutiny Board system to investigate individuals’ grievances etc etc.
If Jersey had 53 States Members like Bob Hill then perhaps there might not be so great a problem – but
Jersey has only ONE such elected peoples’ representative.
When did you last hear of a Constable representing a Parishioner before a Complaints Board? If you wanted representation where would you turn?