‘Debate over dual role has bedevilled my time as Bailiff’
THE Bailiff has said that the long-running debate on the dual role has ‘bedevilled’ his tenure and made it more difficult to ‘express views’.
Writing in the States 2018 annual report just a month before he retires, Sir William Bailhache said that he had always tried to fulfil his role in a non-political way but there had been occasions where ‘I have no doubt failed in that’.
The historic dual role of the Bailiff has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years with critics arguing that one person should not be de-facto head of both the law-making States and the law-interpreting courts.
Several propositions have been lodged for debate in the Chamber with the intention of dividing the role and replacing the Bailiff in the Assembly with an elected speaker. However, to date the Bailiff’s role as President of the States Assembly has remained intact.
Sir William also suggested that future elections should not be held in May as the Easter break, purdah period before an election and the summer break meant that election years were often disjointed.
He said there were three principles which caused ‘sensitivity about the Bailiff expressing a point of view’ – that he could influence States Members, that the Bailiff must be seen to be impartial due to presiding over debates and that some issues may end up in the Royal Court.
Sir William said: ‘I thought I would raise the issue because the role of the Bailiff in the States continues to cause much debate. It has bedevilled my time as Bailiff, making it more difficult for me to express views which do not breach the principles set out above, and which might have been helpful in the context of the overall administration.
‘Finally, as this will be the last occasion on which I write the foreword to the Assembly’s Annual Report, it is right that I say what a privilege it has been for me to be President of the States. It would be going too far to say that I have enjoyed every single debate, but I can say without hesitation that I have always enjoyed participating in the democratic process, and that I have tried in all the jobs I have done – as Attorney General, Deputy Bailiff and Bailiff – to perform the respective functions in a non-political way.
‘Sometimes – and I think these are fewer than my critics would have one believe – I have no doubt failed in that, but it is not for want of trying.’
Discussing the date for future elections, Sir William said that there had been no evidence to suggest the move from October to May had increased voter turnout in the way it was initially hoped.
He added: ‘The combination of having to elect a new government and a relatively short time before the Assembly adjourns for the summer break means that very little is done by the Assembly over the four months after the general election.’