This month’s discussion will be wide-ranging – there are so many ways Guernsey politics could be improved and all of your ideas will be very welcome.
But the inspiration for our 12 June ‘It doesn’t have to be this way’ event was the reaction of Politics Group members to disrespectful behaviour in the States. So this briefing note summarises the mechanisms in our current system that govern politicians’ behaviour.
There is no official job description for the role of Deputy, the job is what you make it.
It is generally described as being made up of three parts:
1) attending States meetings to vote on policies and legislation
2) membership of a States committee, overseeing how a particular part of government is run
3) constituency work, helping individual islanders and liaising with community groups.
There is no obligation to join committees or to do constituency work. The only obligation, from a workload perspective, is to attend States meetings.
If a Deputy does not fulfil their duties for more than 12 consecutive months, the Law Officers can ask the Court to stand that person down as a States member (Reform Law, para 17.2.c).
The States rules are in two sections:
1) the rules of procedure, covering States meetings
2) committee rules
The main rules that are used to manage the debates in the Chamber are Rules 8, 17 and 26:
Rule 8 (7) gives the Presiding Officer (Bailiff or Deputy Bailiff) the power to propose to suspend a States member for the rest of the day for ‘grossly disorderly or offensive conduct’ (rule 8 (7)). However, this rule has not been used within recent memory, the bar is set high.
During policy debates, there is currently no rule for the maximum length of a speech, although time limits have been discussed. However, the Presiding Officer can ask a Deputy to sit down if a speech is ‘irrelevant or tediously repetitious’ (rule 8 (6)). The Bailiff and Deputy Bailiff don’t use this power often, preferring to encourage the speaker to draw to a close.
The States is responsible for setting its own rules. To amend, add or delete a rule, the States Assembly and Constitution Committee brings propositions to a States meeting to be voted on.
Code of conduct
The Code of Conduct is set out in the Blue Book and instructs Deputies to act in the public interest, to maintain the public’s confidence in the States, and to treat other Deputies, civil servants and the public with respect and courtesy.
It also gives States members some specifics NOT to do – like accepting bribes, disclosing confidential information or using government resources for personal business.
However, the Code does not define what respect and courtesy look like, and it does not emphasise collaboration, despite our consensus system of government. For example, it is not against the Code to leave experienced States members on the backbenches or to vote on the basis of loyalty rather than an independent review of the evidence.
Anyone can make an official complaint about a Deputy’s behaviour. Currently complaints are investigated by the States Members Conduct Panel, which is made up of members of the community chosen by the Bailiff. However, to make the process more independent, the States has just appointed a Pan-Island Commissioner for Standards to replace the Conduct Panel.
If the investigation panel (or the new Commissioner for Standards) finds in favour of the person making the complaint, there are a range of penalities for the Deputy concerned, from a simple caution to expulsion from the States. Anything more serious than a caution must be voted on by the States and could be rejected.
Full details of the Complaints Process are here: gov.gg/memberscodeofconduct.
Recent examples of the Code of Conduct in action are:
Before entering office, States members must take an individual oath, or make an affirmation, that they will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty the King, his heirs and successors.
They also swear an oath, or make an affirmation, to perform their duties “well and faithfully” and to abide by the Code of Conduct.
[Affirmation means taking an oath without reference to God or the Bible].
Declarations of interest and conflict of interest
Within seven days of being elected, a new Deputy has to submit a declaration of interests, including any current employment, properties owned or directorships held. These are all published at gov.gg/declarationsof interest and must be updated annually.
A conflict of interest is any situation in which a Deputy’s personal interests could – or could be seen to – influence their decision. If a committee is discussing something related to a Deputy interests, or those of their spouse, young child or business, they have to declare that conflict, withdraw from the meeting and not receive any papers on it. If that matter later comes to the States for a decision, the Deputy can speak and vote but must declare an interest first (Rule 49).
Declaration of unspent convictions
Anyone who has had a prison sentence of more than six months in the last five years can’t stand for election.
After the election, new deputies also have to provide a list of all unspent convictions and update it annually. An unspent conviction is any conviction that is still on the record (some convictions expire after a certain period of time).
The declarations aren’t published but anyone can ask the States Greffier to see them.
Members of the States of Guernsey have parliamentary privilege so they can air any matter, regardless of who or what is being discussed, without fear of legal proceedings.
If a Deputy is felt to have abused parliamentary privilege, the complaint is investigated by a Privileges Panel appointed by the Bailiff. Guernsey has only convened a parliamentary privilege panel once – in the very recent case against Deputy St Pier:
In a business, it’s generally clear who is leading the organisation and that leadership sets the tone in terms of values and behaviour. Although the States has a senior committee, the Policy & Resources Committee, Deputies don’t report to P&R. P&R are responsible for leading the policy planning process and holding the purse-strings, they aren’t responsible for how Deputies behave.
In other jurisdictions, leadership and discipline may come from your political party but Guernsey deputies are mostly independents.
After the 2020 election, Deputies were offered a more extensive induction programme, plus ongoing training, developed by an Induction Working Group made up of senior civil servants.
For 2025, the intention is to run more training prior to the election to help demystify the States for candidates. Details of the induction programme will also be published earlier so that candidates can see full details of what induction/ongoing training will be available before they stand.
States members are classed as self-employed. That means they are not the responsibility of the States of Guernsey HR department, although the Bailiff, the States Greffier and the Parliamentary team assist Deputies in performing their roles as much as they can.
No HR department means States members don’t have appraisals (other than by the voters at the election), they aren’t sent on courses tailored to their individual strengths and weaknesses and they don’t have somewhere to go for support if problems in their personal life are affecting their job or they are having difficulties with a colleague.
On a more positive note, States members get a lot of support from each other which leads to friendships that endure long after leaving elected office.
Although there is no official job description, Deputy Dudley-Owen has drafted her own version.
The role is also summarised in Election 2020 – information for prospective candidates.
For a comprehensive analysis of the workings of the States read the gov.gg document Representing the people – a guide for people’s deputies.