A bid to get Justice Secretary Jack Straw to intervene in the Jersey child abuse controversy was rejected today (Tuesday) by the High Court in London.
Jersey senator Stuart Syvret and Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming argued the rule of law on Jersey was deficient and witnesses feared “a cover-up and political interference”.
The two men applied for permission to seek judicial review, arguing Mr Straw was under a duty to impose independent judicial control over the Jersey court system.
Senator Syvret told the judges this was vital to ensure the alleged victims of abuse had a fair chance of receiving justice.
But Lord Justice Richards, sitting with Mr Justice Tugendhat, dismissed the application and said the complaint should be pursued through Jersey’s own judicial system.
The judge said he was leaving open the question what should happen once proceedings had been through the Jersey courts, including the Jersey court of appeal.
The application for judicial review was brought by Justice For Families Ltd, of which Senator Syvret is a director and Mr Hemming the chairman.
Senator Syvret told the court a lengthy police investigation into allegations of institutional child abuse had identified the remains of at least five children at Haut de la Garenne, a former children’s home managed by the States of Jersey, which closed in 1986.
In addition to the possibility of child murders, there were a substantial number of credible witnesses who alleged they were subjected to various forms of gross child abuse over many decades.
Referring to it as “the Jersey Matter”, Senator Syvret said: “It is my view, and the view of a lot of my constituents and survivors of the abuse, that a number of prosecutions which should take place are not in fact taking place.”
The acts of abuse, including “the most serious examples of child abuse imaginable”, were allegedly largely committed in States of Jersey institutions, or with the connivance of those institutions, he said.
Many victims alleged they were abused by public employees, said Senator Syvret.
He said the witnesses were now concerned that many of the allegations were likely to be covered up, as in the past, through political interference.
Senator Syvret said the “political contamination” of the prosecution system in Jersey was to be seen in the fact that the Attorney General, or his deputy, the Solicitor General, had to determine all prosecutions in Jersey.
But at the same time both were routinely involved in providing day-to-day legal advice to all States of Jersey departments.
They also provided advice to the States assembly, which involved frequently “straying into the political”.
The head and deputy head of the Jersey judiciary – the Bailiff and Deputy Bailiff – were also the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the island’s legislative assembly.
Senator Syvret said the Bailiff, Sir Philip Bailhache – the brother of the Attorney General William Bailhache – had given “an overtly political speech” at last May’s Jersey Liberation Day celebrations, when Jersey celebrated the end of the Nazi occupation.
In his speech, the Bailiff had attacked the child abuse investigation and the media coverage it attracted, said Senator Syvret.
He told the court: “The administration of justice in Jersey is not capable – in practice or appearance – of meeting the necessary standards of objectivity and impartiality in respect of any legal issue arising from the Jersey Matter.
“A politicised prosecution system makes the ability to achieve justice practically non-existent.
“There are serious reasons to consider that the apparatus for prosecution is defective, and there are examples of conflicts of interest.”
He argued that Mr Straw had unlawfully failed to use his constitutional powers to ensure good governance and the proper administration of justice in the Crown dependencies.
The judges refused to rule on whether or not the Justice Secretary had such powers.
They confined their ruling to their finding that Mr Straw had not acted illegally because the correct route was for Senator Syvret and Mr Hemming to pursue their allegations through the Jersey court system.
Dismissing the legal challenge, the judges ruled that complaints of bias or allegations of corruption in any particular abuse case could be put to the island’s Royal Court, and, if necessary, appealed to the Jersey Court of Appeal.
There was also the possibility of a further appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
Later, Senator Syvret said consideration was now being given to taking the case to the Court of Appeal in London.
He said: “Today’s judgement is a blow against my constituents who are victims.
“Many, many people I know and work with personally have been betrayed by the authorities in Jersey over the years and, in many cases, have wrecked lives.”
During the hearing, Senator Syvret and Mr Hemming were told that Mr Justice Tugendhat had sat as a judge in the Jersey Court of Appeal between the late 1990s and when he was appointed a High Court judge in 2003.
Lord Justice Richards said that, as an appeal judge, he had met some of the office holders on the island, including names mentioned in today’s proceedings, both socially and professionally.
The judge said Senator Syvret had made it clear he did not object to Mr Justice Tugendhat hearing his application, but that was “without prejudice to the concerns expressed in these proceedings about the legal system in Jersey and the close connections that exist between various office holders”.