When delay thwarts will of the States
Monday 25th February 2013, 3:21PM GMT.
BACK in 2002, the States decided in quite careful terms the circumstances in which a referendum might be held here and whether it should be classed as binding or consultative. Legislation was required – and rather like updating animal cruelty laws – that remains the case today.
To say nothing has been done is an exaggeration. The Policy Council decided last year, after only a 10-year delay, that the instructions given by the Assembly in 2002 were not clear enough and so further work has to be done before it goes to the legal draftsmen.
The excuse for such inactivity, revealed in response to a written question last month, was that the council did not consider it a priority.
This rather reinforces the view expressed by this column and elsewhere that abiding by resolutions of the Assembly is largely voluntary and certainly raises the issue of what point is served by demanding laws that will never be written.
Now, a decade after the original decision, the Policy Council has been told that even if there was a law to hold a referendum and it was decided by deputies that it should be binding, there is no way of making it so.
This is an important point but not one that takes 10 years to work out unless someone has decided that, irrespective of the Assembly’s view in 2002, Guernsey is not to have referendums.
Yet not having the ability to hold a plebiscite is a serious weakness in the island’s democratic armoury and one most likely to be revealed when this community is up against it, perhaps over constitutional relationship issues.
The need for gauging public opinion has just been highlighted in Jersey, where a referendum is to be held on government reforms, so that island appears to have cracked an issue that has apparently puzzled Guernsey for a decade.
More importantly, who polices the priority applied by ministers to States decisions? If the purpose of scrutiny is to improve the process of government then the delay between policy direction and implementation is clearly under-reviewed.
And 10 years after deciding that Guernsey needs referendums, deputies still have no idea when they might be introduced.
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