At the core of the proposition, which was presented by St Martin Deputy Bob Hill, was a review mechanism involving an independent panel. This will mean that any States employee who is under suspension will have his or her case impartially reviewed every 28 days. Additionally, those suspended will have the right to be accompanied by a union representative, a colleague or a friend during any hearing or review.
Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur proposed amendments which, had they been successful, would have nullified Deputy Hill’s objectives, and a majority of the Council of Ministers voted against the proposition. It is, however, difficult to appreciate why these courses of action were chosen. Procedures for dealing effectively with suspension have, to date, been deeply unsatisfactory, not only for those who have been suspended but also from the point of view of the public.
Suspended employees are often forced to endure months in a limbo of uncertainty and anxiety. In addition, taxpayers are all too often in the position of understanding that their money is being spent on paying someone not to work but otherwise they are resolutely kept in the dark.
There are, of course, usually very good reasons why the full details of individual cases cannot be made public until those cases have been resolved, but at the very least there must be regular interim indications of how investigations – frequently involving matters that are very much in the public interest – are proceeding.
As Deputy Hill pointed out during the debate, 36 public employees have been suspended in the past 12 months. He also said that in just two of the departments involved – Health and Home Affairs – suspension costs of almost £1 million were incurred.
These figures make it clear that the suspension issue is no trivial problem in terms of impact on the workforce or cost. It is, therefore, entirely right and proper that Islanders should be confident that each and every suspension is being treated with appropriate urgency and transparency.
Even more importantly – to protect our international reputation as well as in the interests of natural justice – we must be confident that the way in which we deal with this issue satisfies article six of Human Rights legislation, which says that everyone must be entitled to a fair hearing.