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Justice policy "out of date" and needs informed debate

Justice policy

Tuesday 21 July 2020

Justice policy "out of date" and needs informed debate


Amendments to Home Affairs' Justice Report underline the need for the States to have a proper debate about drug decriminalisation as soon as possible, according to one Deputy, who has proposed a sursis that would commit Home Affairs to developing evidence-based recommendations for updating how Guernsey's justice system operates.

Deputy Emilie McSwiggan, seconded by Deputy Jennifer Merrett, has put forward the motion in the hope of stimulating a more focussed and constructive platform for debate on the much-needed modernisation of Guernsey's justice framework.

The sursis would commit Home Affairs to preparing evidence-based proposals for a Justice Framework, rather than the green paper to be presented to the States this week, by no later than December 2022.

It also seeks the development of a strategy that includes options for alternative and non-punitive approaches to the possession and use of small quantities of illegal drugs.

"The States is being asked to debate Home Affairs’ Justice policy letter as a ‘green paper’," said Deputy McSwiggan. "This means that, under the rules, no amendments are permitted. States Members can comment on the content of the policy letter, and the committee may choose to take this into account when developing its detailed proposals.

"This approach has not been satisfactory to some States Members, who clearly think that a debate on important aspects of justice policy is long overdue. This has been shown by the number of amendments which have been laid despite the green paper restrictions, with members seeking to suspend the rules so that they can be considered."

Deputy McSwiggan started drafting her sursis on Wednesday morning, once she had seen the fourth amendment from Deputies Marc Leadbeater and Charles Parkinson, which calls for an expeditious move to a Canada-style drugs law.

"Up to that point, I had been intending to vote for the earlier amendments – I don’t think a ‘green paper’ debate is especially helpful at this late stage in the term, and I don’t think we should pass up an opportunity to do the right thing. I agree with the aim of the amendments, which deal with drug reform and appeals against convictions, and so I would have been happy to support them.

"But I found amendment four challenging, because it asks us to jump to a conclusion about the best way to decriminalise drug use in Guernsey, without any prior research or preparation. I don’t think I can support that as it stands, but it really does underline the need for the States to have a proper debate about drug decriminalisation as soon as possible.

"So that’s partly what the Sursis asks the States to do. If the Sursis is approved, it will replace the amendments, and it will direct HSC and Home Affairs to consider alternatives to the criminal justice system in cases of personal drug use."

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Pictured: Deputy Emilie McSwiggan said her sursis "offers a bridge between the original ‘green paper’ and the amendments. It allows the debate to focus on Justice Policy in general, while also creating a constructive framework for consideration of drug reform."

The West Deputy said this is consistent with the aims of the original amendment one by Deputies Jon Le Tocq and Laurie Queripel - an amendment she had intended to support - but that it also includes a direction to consider regulatory alternatives, so that the issues raised by amendment four can be considered fully. 

More importantly, though, she says the sursis aims to "refocus "the debate on the purpose of the Justice Framework itself. 

"I was worried that this would become just a debate about cannabis, or drug decriminalisation more generally, when the reality is that there are so many areas of justice policy which are out of date and which need to be addressed urgently," said Deputy McSwiggan. 

"A lot of good work has been done on the future of Justice policy already – that’s shown in the Guernsey Justice Review report, which is attached to the ‘green paper’. I think it’s a real pity that the Committee chose not to present the recommendations of that report to the States. I don’t agree with them all, but it would have allowed us to have a solid discussion about what Justice in Guernsey should look like.

"As they haven’t done that, I have summarised what I think are the most important aspects of the review, and asked the committee to go back and draw up a Justice Framework which minimises the harm done to our community by crime – especially by concentrating on prevention and the complex social issues that can lead to people becoming involved with the criminal justice system."

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Pictured: Deputies Marc Leadbeater and Charles Parkinson want the island to move swiftly to a Canada-style relaxation of drug laws. Read more about that amendment HERE

"However, I’ve been told there are absolutely no resources to do this work, which is deeply concerning. It begs the question of why the committee brought the ‘green paper’ to the States at all. It makes me think that, if we want to see any progress on Justice policy in the remainder of this term or the start of the next, we really need the kind of commitment the sursis asks for."

"The sursis motivé offers a bridge between the original ‘green paper’ and the amendments. It allows the debate to focus on Justice Policy in general, while also creating a constructive framework for consideration of drug reform. It would allow the States to walk away with a commitment to action on two fronts – criminal justice generally, and drug reform specifically – where there is currently no commitment at all. I think those would be two really positive things for this States to hand over to its successors."

Pictured top: Deputy McSwiggan said the States needs an informed debate on how recreational drug use is treated in the Justice System. 

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