Deputies altered proposals for a new political ethics watchdog on the floor of the States Assembly after concerns were raised about the lack of an appeals process at the eleventh hour.
Deputies strongly backed and immediately approved the appointment of a new Commissioner for Standards in public life, but a late amendment brought by the States Assembly & Constitution Committee after 17:00 on Wednesday salvaged the remaining plans following protestations from politicians.
The Commissioner, Northern Ireland-based Dr Melissa McCullough, will investigate alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct by politicians for both the Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey.
SACC have agreed to report back to the States with proposals for an appeals procedure against decisions made by Dr McCullough before October.
Concerns were first raised by Deputy Sasha Kazantseva-Miller who said she was unable to support the proposal as it stood because of “limited room for accused deputies to appeal the decisions of the panel”.
Several other deputies subsequently voice similar concerns about the lack of a baked-in appeals process. Deputy Heidi Soulsby said it went against the spirit of the initial proposal the States had previously agreed.
Another concern was that SACC would be able to pass its own judgement on, and attach comments to, to the findings of the panel’s report before it would be debated by the Assembly.
Deputy Andrew Taylor argued this could amount to the “weaponisation” of the reports by those deputies. Others also criticised general instances of code of conduct complaints being lodged for personal political purposes.
Deputy Meerveld maintained that the ultimate jury of any report would be the States Assembly, but quickly agreed to adjourn the meeting so SACC could whip up a compromise.
Pictured: Deputy Meerveld agreed to hastily discuss changes to the proposals as the end of the States meeting loomed.
Deputy David Mahoney criticised his colleagues for not raising the issues prior to the meeting as the policy paper had been in the public domain “for a while”.
“We are making policy on the fly… this should have been raised before.”
He also questioned if a six-month time frame for drawing up the appeals process was necessary, and if it could be sped up.
Deputy Meerveld suggested the late amendment was a good example of “democracy in action”, and that SACC would come back “earlier if possible” with the appeals process to be outlined within the coming weeks.
Despite the resolved concerns, Deputy Meerveld added that the adoption of the Commissioner would be “a real step forward on the process we have now,” with an “arms length judge” considering conduct. He added the Dr McCullough has a “very impressive resume”.
She moved to Northern Ireland from the United States in 1994 and obtained her PhD from Queen’s University Belfast, Faculty of Medicine.
She also has a Master’s degree in Bioethics and Applied Ethics, a Bachelor of Laws degree and a degree in Biology. Since 2005, Dr McCullough has worked as an academic in law, ethics and professionalism in the UK and Ireland.
She served as Non-Executive Director for the Health and Social Care Board in Northern Ireland from 2009 until 2020 and is currently a visiting academic at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and an assessor for undergraduate medical programmes for the Medical Council Ireland.
Dr McCullough is the current Northern Island Assembly Commissioner for Standards.
As well as investigating complaints, she is also responsible for promoting the highest ethical standards in public life.
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