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Legal protection for lying politicians may be removed

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A LAW which protects politicians from being prosecuted for lying to official inquiries could be changed as part of an overhaul of the rules on parliamentary privilege, the JEP has learned.

A review of parliamentary privilege has, according to the Greffier of the States, been under way for months and the arrangements involving committees of inquiries make up part of the work.

The review was commissioned by the Privileges and Procedures Committee, which handles States reform and standards, earlier this year and has now been completed by Sir Malcolm Jack, a former Clerk of the UK House of Commons.

He has submitted his report and it is due to go to PPC next month.

Earlier this week Islander Madeleine Vibert, who was abused at Haut de la Garenne in the 1960s and 1970s, described the current law whereby members of the public can be prosecuted for perjury if they lie on oath to a committee of inquiry but States Members cannot as 'unfair'.

She called for it to be changed.

Her comments came after St Helier Deputy Andrew Lewis was found to have lied to the States and the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry when giving evidence about the suspension of former police chief Graham Power.

Following the inquiry's conclusion that it had been lied to, Mr Power said that the inquiry had appeared to allege that Deputy Lewis had committed perjury.

However, Attorney General Robert MacRae said that parliamentary privilege extended to committees of inquiry and therefore politicians were protected from prosecution for the offence, even if they were found to have lied.

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PPC recently concluded that Deputy Lewis had breached the States Members' Code of Conduct through his actions. It is yet to announce what, if any, sanction it will impose.

Mr Power has welcomed the review of the law and said changing it would be an important step towards restoring faith in the justice system and the Jersey authorities.

States Greffier Mark Egan said: 'The purpose of the review was to look at existing legislation and case law on parliamentary privilege with a review to recommending how it could be improved, drawing on experience in other jurisdictions.

'The scope of the review includes the possibility of providing for States Members to be subject to prosecution, if they commit perjury when under oath before a committee of inquiry.'

PPC has not yet seen the report but would be responsible for taking forward any legislative changes that may arise out of it.

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