Thursday, October 24, 2013

More complaints about Jersey's Complaints Board

Dave Manning's Complaints Board public hearing - taking part in a mini-bus!

Dave Manning, who has become famous over the past 40 years re Field 1007 at St John was appearing before a Complaints Board on 23 October at St John’s Parish Hall.

I was the only member of the public sitting in the public seats except for Mike Stein – a former senior Planning Officer – who was there with his “Interested Party” – a neighbour of Mr Manning at St John who presumably initiated the whole thing by complaining about his use of Field 1007…

In fact, it was not made clear who actually made the initial complaint and neither Mr Stein nor his “Interested Party” was allowed to speak – although they had submitted papers which were included “in the bundle” presented to the Board….

Mr Manning complained about these papers – was it legally correct he asked for a Third Party submission to be included in the file?
It was just the first of many interesting questions asked during the next few hours and Board Chair Christine Vibert did not know the answer. She offered the view “It is a bit hazy” but that the papers had been inserted by the Greffe.
Mr Manning countered that he was asking for them to be removed…

There were to be more questions later about Officers of the Planning Office communicating with their former colleague Mr Stein but the rules were never very clearly laid down and the haze became even deeper and widespread as the hearing proceeded…

Yours truly, in the interests of clarity, asked at the outset whether video recording was allowed. Absolutely no! Was the Chair’s response. And how about the site visit – could I record there? No.
But that is not what has happened in the past I protested and this is supposed to be a public hearing…No, No video recording said Chair Christine – “but I will allow you just one photograph”.
At this point Board member John Mills interjected “No, I won’t allow any photograph of me” and third member (lawyer) Geoffrey Crill also joined in but his words were not clear enough to penetrate the fog.
Mr Manning, on whose land the site visit would take place confirmed that he had no objection at all to the proceedings being video- recorded.
His supporter, people’s rep Deputy John Young – said nothing on the matter.

Although this was supposed to be a “hearing in public”, as already explained, the public were absent. There had of course been no advertising of the event in the Gazette and the JEP and other media did not apparently advise of it – even if they were aware of it taking place.
Quite how the general public is supposed to know in advance of such hearings has always been a source of discontent with this blogger and I have campaigned on the matter for years.
On this occasion I had been personally told by Mr Manning that the meeting would take place on this date etc but the Greffe’s liability to advise the public is at best, uncertain.
Since such hearings are complaints against the administration of States Departments it is curious that no better and wider publicity is given to them. There was not even a notice outside the St John’s Parish Hall advertising the hearing and of course, it is not helpful that these take place generally around the Parishes, so that location, time, date etc etc are changed at “whim.”

No “accredited press” attended either.
Presumably any media reports will be based upon the usual Press Release from the Greffe or some other States Communications Unit.
In other words, they will be based upon the “official government line” and of course, the subsequent decision of the Board.

At the hearing there was no sound system in use either for the ease of those present or to make a recorded transcript. In fact the sound levels in the small, first floor “Committee Room” were reasonably OK but no sign indicated a sound loop….Access by lift was available however.
A clerk from the Greffe kept written notes – but what happens to these overtime is not clear to this blogger.
In fact there is not even a complete register of previous Board decisions so it is impossible for a potential complainant to check them for precedents or similar circumstances….

So the Board, their team and Mr Manning then drove to the nearby Field 1007 to see the site in context.
Unfortunately, the rain poured down immediately we all arrived so that the initial discussions took place within the official mini-bus. Mr Stein and yours truly stood outside getting wet but able to hear nothing.
I took the photo – presumably my only permitted photo - as posted here, to indicate the public meeting in progress.
Eventually we too were allowed into the “public” van to hear the proceedings. Mr Stein was allowed to offer some clarification on dates.
But when the windows misted up so that the “site” outside could no longer be sited, the Board adjourned back to the Parish Hall.

It is necessary to explain, as did Deputy Young, that he was supporting Mr Manning because both his St John Constable (Rondel) and Deputy (Ryan) had declined. He had responded to Mr Manning’s request for assistance in spite of being an elected rep for St Brelade.
It was an interesting insight into the myths of Jersey’s system of elected representation and exposed the difficulties experienced by potential complainants seeking help…when did you last know of a Constable presenting such a case for a Parishioner…?

The Planning and Environment Department was represented solely by Planning Officer Townsend. There was no elected politician speaking for the government administration although in times past it was ruled that the relevant Minister (or President) must always be present at such hearings…

Dave Manning presented his case very competently. He is an experienced campaigner since 1970 regarding this Field but, of course, most people with a complaint and seeking a fair hearing would be intimidated by the whole process.

That less than a dozen hearings take place every year from a population of 100,000 indicates that the system of making complaints against the entire Jersey administration, is substantially defective.
It is of course a very pale imitation of the “Ombudsman” system that operates in other places against all aspects of government decision making and many other aspects of experienced bureaucracy.

In Gibraltar, with a population of less than 30,000, hundreds of hearings take place each year and thousands of complaints are made. Many through a system that actually seeks out the transgressions of the government and initiates action – even when no individual has come forward to complain.

Jersey’s system is hopeless and the few decisions made cannot be enforced.

In this particular instance the Board Chair explained that they will try to report back before Christine Vibert goes on holiday for a month from 1st November. If not, the parties must wait. Is this really indicative of an adequate system – one that relies upon volunteers finding some spare time to deal with the complaints of fellow citizens that might be suffering untold grief or worries…?

As this blogger has written previously, the Complaints Board system needs to be scrapped in its present form.
It may be that the Scrutiny Panel system needs extending to include “individual grievances” too but the current systems available to the general public are so hopelessly inadequate that there must be Human Rights implications raised.
Of course, with our famous Jersey own Brand lawyers charging £300 an hour just to speak to people with grievances or complaints the pursuit of justice is just a dream for so many.

Mr Manning is unique and I am offering no comments on his case here but I shall eat my tricorn if he fails to succeed in this instance.

I invited Deputy Young to be interviewed on these matters and more but he declined “until after this decision is known.”


  1. it really does show the level of incompetence in what is supposed to be a legal and transparent process . Its actually comical .

  2. Deputy John Young emailed me this comment and agreed to it being published;

    "In response to your remarks about me on your blog.
    I declined to contribute because I represented the complainant at this complaints board hearing. My role was to do that to the best of my ability and it would have been inappropriate and unfair to the complainant for me to use the occasion to grandstand my personal views on the limitations of the current complaints process which would not help the complainant. Sometimes it is necessary to work with what is.
    I will await the report of the complaints Board and the outcome of this hearing. I will comment on the complaints Board process at that time. Regards. John."

  3. I remember making a complaint to this body in the mid-1990's and I didn't even get as far as a hearing. The only difference back then was the more cumbersome name: A Board of Administrative Appeal. It was sham justice then and by the sound of it nothing has changed. According to the Appointments Commission's own code of practice, the term of office of a member of a public body should not exceed 10 years, yet in 2012, four members of the Complaints Board retired. Two of them had each served for 15 years and another two had each racked up 12 years service. I know that Christine Vibert has also served on the Board for at least 13 consecutive years. The law states that the Chairman and Deputy Chairmen must be "suitably qualified by profession or experience". According to her biography, Miss Vibert is not legally qualified- she was formerly a "self-employed consultant" and now calls herself a "document management consultant". However, laughably, we are informed in her 2012 States biography that she "comes from a legal family." Oh well- that definitely makes her suitably qualified then! As for being represented by Deputy John Young, I would personally just go it alone if that was my only option!