An emergency meeting of the States is scheduled for this coming Tuesday due directly to the recent unlawful arrest of Senator Stuart Syvret and the illegal search of his home!
Deputy Geoff Southern has issued a report and proposition that has been tabled for this extraordinary emergency meeting.
Reprinted from Senator Syvret’s blog:
STATES OF JERSEY
ARREST AND DETENTION OF SENATOR STUART SYVRET AND ASSOCIATED MATTERS
Lodged au Greffe on 16th April 2009 by Deputy G.P. Southern of St. Helier.
THE STATES are asked to decide whether they are of opinion _
(a) to express their concern in respect of the apparent interference in the communications between elected representatives and their constituents which arises from the arrest and detention of Senator Stuart Syvret on 6th April 2009;
(b) to further express their concern in respect of the suppressing effect of such actions upon other elected representatives, and members of the public;
(c) to further express their concern in respect of the searching of premises, without a search warrant, and the consequent taking of communications between members of the public and their elected representatives;
(d) to request the Minister for Home Affairs to make an urgent statement concerning the decisions, whether operational or political, taken by the States of Jersey Police and the Minister in relation to the arrest and detention of Senator Stuart Syvret;
(e) to request the Privileges and Procedures Committee to make an urgent statement explaining the extent of the protection offered to States members, and their constituents, by parliamentary privilege.
DEPUTY G.P. SOUTHERN OF ST. HELIER
Emergency States Sitting.
This is an urgent proposition, dealing as it does with matters of immense gravity that go to the very heart of free, functioning democracy in Jersey.
This proposition most certainly amounts to, as standing order 26 (7) says, “a matter of such urgency and importance that it would be prejudicial to Jersey to delay its debate.”
The States Assembly will, therefore, be asked at the beginning of the requisitioned meeting, to agree – as described in standing order 26(7) – to set aside the minimum lodging period in respect of this proposition.
At approximately 9.00 a.m., on Monday 6th April 2009, Senator Stuart Syvret, the senior Senator of the States Assembly, was arrested by the States of Jersey Police as he stepped from the door of his home. The arrest took place in the presence of approximately 8 police officers who were on the scene in 4 police vehicles.
Senator Syvret was told he was under arrest for alleged breaches of the Data Protection Law, and was, more specifically, later told that the alleged offences related to material published on his Internet blog.
The Senator’s home was then searched, although no search warrant was issued for the alleged offence under Schedule 9, Article 50, Data Protection (Jersey) Law 2005.
The manner of Senator Syvret’s arrest, the search of his home without a warrant, and the taking away of some of his possessions and the possessions of others residing in the premises raises serious concerns for democracy in Jersey, Jersey’s external reputation, Parliamentary Privilege, the Rule of Law, and the accountability, control, and judgement of the police and judicial authorities.
For the avoidance of doubt, this proposition is not about –
1. Senator Syvret as an individual;
2. the merits or otherwise of any allegations or charges being made or brought against him by the police; or
3. the content of his blog.
The proposition, however, is about –
1. The reputation of Jersey as a democracy
It is difficult to describe the damage to Jersey’s reputation – even its very appearance as a functioning democracy – if Laws are used against members of the legislature and their constituents, in ways that appear to be disproportionate and of dubious validity.
The arrest and detention of a member of the legislature, and the searching of his home – without a search warrant – can only make Jersey appear as some kind of democratically bankrupt republic like Zimbabwe.
2. Parliamentary Privilege
The rights and privileges of parliamentarians have been the subject of a long and protracted battle over the last 400 years and should not be discarded lightly.
What is of profound concern is that any members of the Jersey parliament can be arrested in a patently excessive manner – and their home be searched by a large number of police officers – merely for publishing information which they believe to be in the public interest.
Of grave concern is that some of the material seized at Senator Syvret’s home not only concerned privileged communications between him and his constituents, but also similar privileged communications between another States Member and their constituents.
The information and equipment seized by the police included documents and computers owned by the Senator, as well as his Security ID fob for access to the States network, thereby giving the police access to communications between other States Members on a wide variety of issues, including the suspension of the Chief of Police and other allegations of police misconduct. In addition, computer equipment belonging to other family members not connected with the police enquiries was also removed for examination.
The police action can only be viewed as a direct threat to the people of Jersey and the democratic right of the public to communicate with their political representatives and for those representatives to fearlessly fight for their constituents.
A number of other States members now feel threatened and constrained in their work as elected representatives of the people of Jersey, as a direct consequence of the actions against the Senator.
If States members can have their communications interfered with and can be arrested and detained in a police cell for 7 hours, whilst their home is searched – without a search warrant – then Jersey is not a functioning democracy; instead members will always feel threatened by the prospect of such excessive and abusive actions against them.
The anger from all sides of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom at the arrest of Damien Green M.P., and the searching of his office, illustrates just how diligently members of a legislature guard their right to be free from persecutions and trivial harassments so they may speak and act for their constituents without fear.
If members of the States of Jersey fail to express similar concerns, the damage to our reputation will be colossal.
3. The misuse of the Police Procedures and Criminal Evidence (Jersey) Law 2003
Senator Syvret was told he was under arrest for alleged breaches of the Data Protection Law, and was, more specifically, later told that the alleged offences related to material published on his Internet blog. Information which the Senator believes is in the public interest.
If the Senator was allegedly in breach of the Data Protection (Jersey) Law 2005, which has specific provision in Article 50, Schedule 9, for the search of premises and the seizure of material, why were these provisions not used instead of Article 29 of the Police Procedures and Criminal Evidence (Jersey) Law 2003? Especially as the raid was obviously a pre-planned operation on Senator Syvret’s home. Why was Senator Syvret not merely invited to attend the Police Station?
4. Double standards
Why have the police gone to such extraordinary measures in this case when there have been other well-documented breaches of the Data Protection Law by other States Members – breaches of no public interest merit – which have not merited such action?
5. Role of elected and unelected Members of the States and Honorary System
A further consideration arises which directly affects the credibility of the Assembly as presently constituted. What was the role of the Bailiff, Deputy Bailiff, Attorney General or Solicitor General or Minister for Home Affairs in this affair?
Did the Connétable of the relevant parish know anything of the action against Senator Syvret? Did the States police undertake such a dramatic action without any prior consultation or notice to the honorary police in the parish?
Were any of the Connétable’s honorary officers actually involved in the action?
What role, if any, did the Connétable himself play in the planning or execution of this policing action in his parish?
Those supporting this proposition believe it to be absolutely vital to Jersey’s standing as a respectable democracy that the legislature meet as a matter of great urgency in order to debate the implications of the arrest and detention of Senator Stuart Syvret.
The Assembly must debate these issues in order to restore the public’s confidence in their ability to communicate freely and in confidence with their elected representatives.
The Minister for Home Affairs must be asked for an urgent statement concerning the decisions, whether operational or political, taken by the States of Jersey Police and the Minister in relation to the arrest and detention of Senator Stuart Syvret.
The Chairman of the Privileges and Procedures Committee must also be asked for an urgent statement outlining the extent of the protection offered to States members and their constituents by their parliamentary privilege.
Both democracy and the rule of law have been shaken by recent events.
The Assembly must exhibit the appropriate leadership.
Deputy Geoff Southern.
Stuart does express some pessimism:
What’s the betting the States Assembly rejects it? Or even refuse to debate it this coming Tuesday?
Sadly, I think we all understand those odds only too well.
I, on the other hand, am praying for the residents of this tiny island that their government is finally waking up to the realization they it can no longer continue operations as usual and moves into the 21st century!