Billet Blog: 6 September 2017


Billet Blog: 6 September 2017

The States last met on Friday 30 June (although Committee meetings and parish work have continued throughout the summer). We reconvene on Wednesday 6 September, kicking off the second year of the 2016-2020 States’ term. The agenda for the first meeting is light, but a fairly wide range of policy papers have been lodged over the summer – including the headline-grabbing proposals on the funding of the private Colleges, and the future of the wall at L’Ancresse East – so future meetings will certainly be busier and more engaging.

Billet d’Etat XVI – 6 September 2017 (read it online here) – Election of a Jurat

This Billet convenes the States of Election: a body which includes States Members, parish and church representatives, and the island’s Jurats. The role of the States of Election is to choose the island’s Jurats. We last met in May, when Jurat Joanne Wyatt was elected.

The role of Jurats in the island’s justice system is explained here. In brief, they act as a permanent jury, who judge matters of fact (not law) in civil and criminal cases, and who have a role in criminal sentencing, as well as a range of other decision-making responsibilities. Following the last election, it became clear that the rules and responsibilities of the States of Election need to be revised, and the Policy & Resources Committee has directed SACC (the States’ Assembly and Constitution Committee) to do so. The broader question of whether the role of Jurats remains appropriate in a modern justice system is not one which is being considered by the States at the moment.

Billet d’Etat XV – 6 September 2017 (read it online here)

Part One: Legislation Laid Before the States

The items in this section are statutory instruments (orders and regulations) which are agreed and put into action by individual Committees of the States, in line with their powers and duties. The States do not have to approve these (they are in force from the moment the relevant Committee decides) but we do have the power to annul a statutory instrument if we don’t agree with it. This would be quite an unusual move. There won’t be any debate about these items unless there is a motion to annul one of them.

There are three Statutory Instruments: one revises the fees payable for planning applications, and two update references to The International Stock Exchange (TISE) – formerly the Channel Islands Securities Exchange – in relevant legislation.

Part Two: Legislation for Approval

Item 1 – The High Hedges (Guernsey) Law, 2016 (Commencement) Ordinance, 2017 (link) Responsible Committee: Development & Planning Authority

The States approved a new law, setting out how high hedges are to be managed if they become a nuisance to neighbours, in November 2016. This ordinance means that the High Hedges (Guernsey) Law, 2016, will become effective from 2 October 2017.

Item 2 – The Social Insurance (Guernsey) Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2017 (link) Responsible Committee: Employment & Social Security

Last November, the Committee recommended renaming “Invalidity Benefit” (an income-replacement benefit which is paid to people who have been unable to attend work for over six months due to ill-health – more information about the benefit is available here) as “Incapacity Benefit.” It explained that the term ‘invalidity’ had become outdated and offensive to some. The States agreed that the benefit should be renamed, and this small piece of legislation officially changes its name, and references to it in other laws.

Part Three: Other Business

Item 3 – Employment and Discrimination Tribunal: Removal of the Retirement Age of Panel Members and Designation of the Convenor and Deputy Convenor (link) Responsible Committee: Employment & Social Security

The Employment & Discrimination Tribunal is responsible for deciding claims relating to unfair treatment at work, including discrimination (under the very small number of discrimination laws Guernsey currently has), unfair dismissal and non-payment of minimum wage.

Following retirement of the Tribunal’s Convenor, the States needs to confirm a new Convenor and Deputy Convenor. The names recommended by the Committee for Employment & Social Security are Mrs Tina Le Poidevin (as Convenor) and Mrs Christine Le Lievre (as Deputy Convenor). Both are experienced Panel members and will serve in their roles until 28 February 2018.

The Committee is also taking the opportunity to remove the compulsory retirement age of 70 for Tribunal members. The Tribunal has reasonable internal processes for encouraging members who are not performing well to step down, and the Committee doesn’t think that age alone should stop people from serving. This is consistent with the Committee’s own work on Longer Working Lives, which recognises that older workers have a great deal to contribute, sometimes well beyond their formal retirement age.

Part Four: Appendix Reports

Channel Islands Financial Services Ombudsman [CIFO] – 2016 Annual Report (link)

CIFO, the Financial Services Ombudsman for Guernsey and Jersey, completed its first full year of operations in 2016. This Annual Report indicates that it is still too early to be sure what the shape of the Ombudsman’s work will be, but it has already begun to develop in some surprising ways – for example, the complaints volume in 2016 was nearly twice as high as expected, with quite a few complaints relating to financial services that aren’t covered by the Ombudsman’s mandate. The report highlights some of the challenges of operating in a complex financial system, where multiple organisations could be involved in a complaint, or a significant number of people might be affected by a poor product or service. For now, the report simply highlights these challenges, although it may be that the Committee for Economic Development and its Jersey counterpart eventually decide that these are policy areas that need to be addressed further.

I have taken an interest in the work of the Financial Services Ombudsman which dates back to my time in the voluntary sector. It should be remembered that the role of the Ombudsman is ultimately about consumer protection (an area which is very under-developed here in Guernsey) – including of people who are vulnerable, through old age, poor health or disability, language barriers, lack of financial literacy, poverty, debt, and other circumstances. There is clearly an overlap between their work and that of the Committee for Employment & Social Security, which I sit on, as well as with the Adult Safeguarding responsibilities of the Committee for Health and Social Care, and I am keen to explore this further.

Billet d’Etat XVII – 6 September 2017 (read it online here)

Item 1 – Election of a Member of the Transport Licensing Authority (link) Responsible Committee: Transport Licensing Authority

I stepped down from the Transport Licensing Authority during the summer, to avoid any risk of a conflict between my role there and my Committee responsibilities. Over the past year, I’ve come to appreciate that the Committees I sit on interact with airlines much more than I had realised, due to the need to ensure air ambulance and medical evacuation services for the Islands; and this could potentially overlap with my role on the TLA.

I have only good things to say about the President and fellow TLA members – it was a pleasure to work with them and I’m sorry to have stepped down. However, I do think the States will ultimately need to think about whether bodies like the TLA (and perhaps also the Development & Planning Authority) are the right fit for our system of government. Members of the two Authorities have a semi-judicial role – we have to make fair, impartial judgments about whether applications (in the case of the TLA, relating to airlines wanting to fly new routes to and from the UK) comply with pre-agreed policy guidelines. We have to be careful of expressing any political opinion related to our mandate, in case this is seen as prejudicing our decision-making. In the case of TLA, this means that five politicians have been taken out of the political debate on the future of our transport links – at a time when connectivity is a burning political issue, and when the States is the smallest it has ever been (only 40 politicians, reduced to 35 when you take Authority members out of the mix). That doesn’t seem to me to be the wisest approach, and I hope it is something that SACC or the Policy and Resources Committee will consider, perhaps as part of a general review into how the States Review Committee’s changes to the structure of government have worked out in practice, and where further amendments might be needed now to make it run more smoothly and effectively.

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