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JEP Opinion: Time to limit the privilege?

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IT is simply astonishing that the law protects States Members who are found to have lied to a public inquiry. Last week, the Attorney General told the House that the law did not allow criminal action to be taken against a Member because the absolute privilege parliamentarians rightly enjoy to discuss matters of public interest in the Assembly extended to evidence given to the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry.

As we now know, the inquiry panel found that Deputy Andrew Lewis had twice lied – once to the States and once to the panel – about events concerning the suspension of former police chief Graham Power.

Last week, this newspaper called for Deputy Lewis to stand down. He has not done so, a refusal which leaves a shadow hanging over every Member of the States Assembly and, therefore, in the eyes of many, over the whole Island.

Deputy Lewis is adamant that he did not lie and says he will fight to clear his name when the allegations are examined again by the Privileges and Procedures Committee. But the debate is not now about a personal battle to save one man's reputation, it is about the standing of Jersey and of its leading democratic institution.

Last week, Deputy Jackie Hilton echoed calls for her fellow St Helier No 3 and 4 Deputy to go, saying that she does not want to be tarred with the same brush. The public interest of Jersey is now best served by Deputy Lewis resigning. He can, of course, work to clear his name and he can see if the voting public has faith in his ability to represent them by standing in a by-election or in next year's general election.

It is also imperative – and in the public interest – that the law which protects States Members who lie is reviewed as a matter of urgency.

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