16 April, 2008

Police Reform

Police Complaints Authority and Police Service Commission. Readers of this blog will remember the fiasco of January 2007. The government decided to amend our Constitution without telling us. They thought it was so unimportant an issue, that it was not necessary to consult with the people. The idea was to change the name of the police force to the police service. They also wanted to set up a Police Service Commission to advise the Governor in exercising his powers of appointment over the police force.

This proposed PSC was to be completely toothless. It could advise the Governor about appointments and discipline, but he could completely ignore the advice and do whatever he wanted. More likely, what the Commissioner wanted. If, as is not unknown in other countries, not Anguilla I hasten to say, a Governor depended on a good relationship with a Commissioner to keep quiet about a girlfriend, or whatever, he would do what the Commissioner told him to do. It is not unusual, in my experience, for one-man rule to be exercised on the basis of no greater principle than this.

Government decided they needed a constitutional amendment to do these two things. To change the name, and to appoint a toothless PSC. Nonsense, of course! Since nothing of constitutional importance was being done, they could have used an ordinary statute. It was completely unacceptable that they should presume to authorise London to alter the Constitution without telling us a word about it. Modern constitutional thinking and practice require that the government first obtain our consent by consultation and debate in the House of Assembly. Instead, they quietly went ahead and authorised the Secretary of State to put a Statutory Instrument before Her Majesty in Council for approval and execution. You can read all about it in the post of 17 January 2007.

In the end, the attempt to amend the Constitution was withdrawn. The Secretary of State declined to put the proposed Statutory Instrument before the Privy Council. The matter went dead for the time being.

What agitated us in Anguilla was that this was all being done in direct conflict with the recommendation of the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission. The constitutional review process had taken place between January and August 2006. Anguillians had made a number of representations to the Commission. The Commission accepted those in relation to the police force. The Commission did not recommend a non-binding, advisory, Police Service Commission. Their recommendations are found at paragraphs 62 and 63 of its 2006 Report. They recommended that the Constitution should be amended to introduce:

  1. A Police Complaints Authority; and

  2. A Police Service Commission.

The Police Complaints Authority, or Commission, or whatever we choose to call it, is to be an independent body with power to make disciplinary recommendations that are binding on the Governor. No more having to go to the Commissioner and hope that he likes you more than he likes his officer whose behaviour you are complaining about. No more depending on the decision of one person, the Governor, no matter how much he tries to show personal integrity. We need a proper, independent, Commission. Transparency, democracy, and advanced self-government converge to demand that this reform be made. Such a development will require a constitutional amendment. The present Constitution places total control over discipline in the hands of the Governor and the Commissioner. And, we know from bitter experience how much sweeping under the carpet that results in!

The Police Service Commission was recommended to be equally independent and its recommendations binding. The Commissioner and the Governor must be made to act on their recommendations when it comes to appointments and promotions. No more leaving it to one man, no matter how well-intentioned, to decide whether to make a decision based on personal liking or on personal integrity. Such a change will require a constitutional amendment. It means taking away the present one-man power vested by the present Constitution in the Governor and transferring it to a local body.

Neither of these amendments is difficult. Such Commissions exist in other British Overseas Territories. There are no complaints about how they work that I know of. It does not take a drafting expert to adopt the relevant provision, making such minor changes as are necessary.

The Chief Minister's committee is presently vetting the recommendations made by the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission. We wait to see if they will honour the wishes of the people of Anguilla in this matter.

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