Sunday, 19 November 2006

Indepently parallel news

Living in London, but still reading news from Australia, I find it interesting how often there are parallels in the news, especially to do with political issues. Sometimes there is a clear link between events on different sides of the world, but on other occasions it seems to be a coincedence

Here in the UK, there has been a bit of scandal about the ruling Labour Party giving out peerages in exchange for "loans". There is an ongoing police investigation which it is thought envolve Tony Blair, as well other other prominent Labour figures. The Director of Public Prosecutions and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner have said they will stand aside from decisions relating to the case, due their close connections with Blair. Earlier this week, there were suggestions that the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, should also not be involved. He said that to step aside would not be right due to his constitutional position, and promised to act "in the interests of justice", seeking indepedent advice and making sure that reasons are explained.

Later in the week, the New South Wales Labor government, having already had ministers accused of misleading parliament, speeding offences in a ministerial car, corruption and child sex offences, was hit by another allegation. The opposition leader, Peter Debnam, implied in parliament that another minister was under investigation by the Police Integrity Commission (PIC). The following day, he referred to a "complaint lodged with the PIC" about the Attorney-General, Bob Debus and suggested that as the PIC is overseen by the Attorney-General's department, the process is not independent enough. The response from Debus so far seems to have been focussing on Debnam's original wording "under investigation", ignoring the possibility of a complaint and how that should be dealt with.

How much independence is needed in these situations? Being appointed by a minister might well be a conflict of interest when dealing when that minister is under suspiscion, but if we take that principle strictly, it is hard to imagine a system which can satisfactorily deal with any possible event. Clearly, if Lord Goldsmith cannot be trusted to act appropriately he wasn't the right person for the job in the first place, but justice must be seen to be done. Is it enough for him to give detailed reasons for a decision not to prosecute, and be accountable to parliament? Would it be better if the PIC's usually secret operations were made public in this sort of case, or is some other body needed? Who should be the judge, when it is the independent umpire that is accused?

(Yes, that does make me think of something else, but that's enough for now...)


tdix said...

They were some pretty Hair-raising questions - wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Nice to see you in the blogosphere.

Jonathan said...

I thought the most interesting part was that both stories came up in the same week. Anyway, for some reason it's not working when I try to leave comments on other blogs now.