SHAKESPEARE should have set Hamlet here, as there is certainly ‘something rotten’ in the States of Jersey. A democratic deficit, accountability and privilege will do for starters.
*Democratic deficit: Jersey has elections every four years. In a normal democracy this might be enough to sort the wheat from the chaff, but Jersey is different. We still have our version of ‘Rotten Boroughs’, where there is only a single candidate. Seventeen current Members became Deputies or Constables without any competition at all.
That means that more than 35 per cent of our lawmakers are unelected!
Jersey’s unusual national demographics mean a significant percentage of the population is barred from the States on nationality grounds. While non-British nationals have the vote, they cannot stand for election as Deputies or Senators. Why would they want to engage with a parliament that has just voted to keep foreign-nationals away from the decision-making process? Around 19 per cent of the population can only become Constables and 91 per cent of those were returned uncontested.
Did the States vote down the proposition to change this for nationalistic reasons, or just to ensure there is no competition from those whose priorities might be more socialist/working class in inclination? Is this just Jersey’s form of apartheid?
*Accountability: So what happens when this ethnically cleansed, significantly unelected, ragtag and bobtail bunch take their seats?
The Assembly writes its own rules and prescribes punishment, or not as the case may be, for transgression.
Get yourself on the Council of Ministers and you get a credit card with no limit, and very little, if any, control – just an airy-fairy ministerial Code of Conduct. To make matters worse, any States Member can lie with impunity because there is no such thing a perjury for a Member in the Assembly or Committee.
*Privilege: When all else fails we can complain about the conduct of a States Member. We can, but these complaints are handled by a Scrutiny Panel made up of other States Members.
Overcome that hurdle and you would think you could get satisfaction and a result? Wrong, while you can make a complaint, the result (positive or negative) is the subject of the States’ Assembly’s absolute privilege and, therefore, cannot be made public.
So, in summary: you can get to be an Assembly Member by default; keep 19% of the population out of the legislature; spank a States credit card with impunity; Be accused of allegedly ‘lying’ through your teeth; make up your own rules as you go along. Then finally keep it all secret as you have Absolute Privilege!