Researchers from the University of Essex are exploring the design of a new public-sector ombud in conjunction with the Jersey Law Commission.
By Andrew Le Sueur and Margaret Doyle
The current project has had a long gestation. In 2000, the Review Panel on Machinery of Government in Jersey (chaired by Sir Cecil Clothier) recommended that a public services ombud should be created in Jersey. In October 2017, the Jersey Law Commission repeated this recommendation. In March 2018, the States Assembly (the Island’s parliament) agreed that an ombud should be set-up ‘subject to the findings of research’.
The island of Jersey is one of the British Crown Dependencies, with a population of around 100,000 people. The Jersey Law Commission is the island’s independent law reform agency. Currently the only ombud operating in Jersey is the Channel Islands Financial Ombudsman.
“For an island with a population in excess of 100,000, fewer people than might be expected choose to use the current administrative redress system.”
Jersey Law Commission, 2017
The aim of the project is to develop costed options for a Jersey public services ombud and to explore best practice in terms of jurisdiction and powers, governance, accessibility, and techniques. To seek out lessons for Jersey from experiences in other jurisdictions, we are studying ombud schemes in smaller countries and territories and looking at how ombud schemes in the UK have been designed and redesigned.
The changing face of administrative decision-making in Jersey
Since 2014, the Jersey Law Commission has been working on administrative justice, and in October 2017 it published a report, Improving Administrative Redress in Jersey. The report proposed changes across the whole range of ways in which people can question public bodies’ decisions, including internal complaints; the tribunal system; the States of Jersey Complaints Panel; appeals and judicial review proceedings in the Royal Court; and alternative dispute resolution, including mediation.
The Law Commission report identified a number of trends in the transformation in administrative decision-making in Jersey, which provide a practical context for thinking about future development. In outline:
- The quantity of administrative decision-making has increased significantly. There are more people living in the Island than ever before (the population has risen from around 57,000 in 1951 to over 104,200 in 2017), more public services are provided than in the past, and the day-to-day activities of individuals and business are more highly regulated.
- There has been some transfer of responsibility for public functions (and therefore administrative decision-making) from Parish level to whole-Island government. This is especially evident in relation to provision of welfare support, with the introduction of ‘insular insurance’ in the 1950s and Income Support in 2008. There has also been a transfer of responsibility for some public functions from the Government of Jersey to arms’ length bodies.
- Broad discretionary powers of public authorities (in the country Parishes, often based on the Connétables’ personal knowledge of individuals and their families) have been replaced by detailed rules governing entitlement to welfare and other public services, by civil servants with no prior knowledge of individuals and their families.
- At whole-Island level, there was a change from committee-based government to ministerial government under the States of Jersey Law 2005, following recommendations in the Clothier report.
“Looking across the current administrative justice system in Jersey, our assessment is that it is often not user friendly. Institutions and procedures have not been designed primarily with the needs of ordinary people in mind and we found numerous ways in which the day-to-day operation of systems does not help aggrieved people.”
Jersey Law Commission, 2017
In January 2018, Chief Minister Ian Gorst set out an initial response to the States Assembly welcoming the report. During 2018, the Government of Jersey will be considering the Commission’s recommendations in detail.
Among other recommendations, the Law Commission’s 2017 report recommended that the States Assembly consider whether, in principle, the States of Jersey Complaints Panel should be replaced by a public services ombuds. In March 2018, Senator Philip Ozouf lodged a proposition (P.32/2018) in the States Assembly for the establishment of a public services ombudsman. After debate, the Assembly voted in favour of the principle of a Jersey public services ombud (JPSO), subject to further research.
“Looking into individual complaints would be a core aspect of a JPSO’s work. A JPSO would also have a wider role of working with public bodies to improve the quality of public administration.”
Jersey Law Commission, 2017
The ombuds research
The University of Essex and the Jersey Law Commission are carrying out this research, with a view to publishing a report in August 2018. This is being funded in part by the Economic and Social Research Council with additional support from the Department for Community and Constitutional Affairs.
This project will develop and evaluate design options (including costs) for a public services ombuds suitable for Jersey. Our research work includes:
- Collating and evaluating information about public-sector ombuds in smaller jurisdictions
- Having a series of interviews with stakeholders in Jersey and elsewhere to develop and test ideas.
- Reporting to the Law Commission on our findings
The research team comprises:
- Andrew Le Sueur, a member of the Jersey Law Commission and Professor of Constitutional Justice at the University of Essex.
- Margaret Doyle, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Essex on the UK Administrative Justice Institute project and an independent mediator.
- Varda Bondy, independent researcher specialising in empirical research on judicial review, ADR and administrative justice.