Select Committee on Justice Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-23)


10 DECEMBER 2008

  Q20  Chairman: I did say that I would give you a proper opportunity to refer to the Sark issue. What happened was the Court of Appeal ruled that the proposed reform of the Sark constitution, which allowed the Seneschal to be a member of the legislature and the chief judge, contravened Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. You are aware of this?

  Lord Bach: Yes, I am. If that is what the Court of Appeal decided—on four of the five issues that they had to decide, they decided actually on our side. The most important decision they made of all was that the elections that you referred to earlier today—the first democratic elections in Sark in its 450-year history—are taking place as we speak, at the moment, with 58 candidates for a population of 600. It would be the equivalent of five million candidates in a British general election. So democracy has certainly broken out in Sark today. I am sorry to have gone on about that, but it is quite an important day and I think that the British Government has played its part in years past in getting to that position. We are considering the Court of Appeal decision, of course, and will come to a view on it. We have to do that fairly shortly.

  Q21  Mr Heath: May I come back to the core issue of the current situation? Lord Bach, you are then entirely satisfied that the interests, of not only the banking sector in both the Isle of Man and in Guernsey but also of those who deposited monies with the banks in those countries, were safeguarded from the first point of action of the Treasury in freezing the assets of the Icelandic banks and since, and that those depositors' interests are now safeguarded, in so far as any depositors' interests are safeguarded in the UK?

  Lord Bach: Yes, I am.[1]

  Robert Neill: My apologies for not being here at the beginning of the discussion but I was delayed by something else on the way. Can I say, Lord Bach, I agree with your points about the willingness of the Crown Dependencies generally to reform themselves, as Mr Bourke was also saying. Against that background, you may be aware that I wrote to the Lord Chancellor earlier on in the year about the question of capacity-building. That was raised in relation, for example, to reforms and changes in Sark, where a very small number of people, working part-time, are going to have to create new structures to work effectively. It is unlikely that they have the capacity to do that. You get a situation sometimes where they face difficulties from extremely well-resourced individuals or organisations, and there is a certain lack of equality of arms, if I may put it that way. Can you help me as to what further steps are being taken? I know that you have referred it to the Local Government Association to see if they can give any assistance, but I think you were also going to speak to DfID.

  Q22  Chairman: Perhaps I could just supplement Mr Neill's point, because I think that there is also a wider issue that the Committee itself raised with the Secretary of State. It was in the context of capacity-building being one of the ways in which the British Government can help in situations where it does not have power to do things but it can be of assistance.

  Patrick Bourke: Following on from Mr Neill's point, I was there when the commitment was made by the secretary of state to look into this issue, and my team is following it up. I cannot give you today an outcome to those discussions, but it was a very useful contribution, a good thought, and we are taking it forward. If I may, I will write to you to tell you what the progress is to date.

  Q23  Robert Neill: That will be helpful. Obviously, talking in terms of the immediate litigation and consideration of the Court of Appeal's decision, no doubt that sort of quality advice will be made available by Her Majesty's Government to the authorities in Sark, to enable them to come up with whatever solutions are necessary in a timely manner.

  Lord Bach: Yes, indeed.

  Chairman: At this point, we will move to the question of legal aid reform.

1   Note by witness: I am satisfied by the steps taken by the UK Government in the interests of the people whose deposits the UK regulatory authorities are responsible for.


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