15th March 2019
GUILTY AS CHARGED DESPITE REFUSING TO CO-OPERATE WITH SARK’S CODE OF CONDUCT PANEL
IN FULL AND UNEDITED SARK’S CODE OF CONDUCT PANEL JUDGEMENT ‘WE UPHOLD MR DOYLE’S COMPLAINT’
On 10th December 2018 a hustings event was held at the Island Hall, two days before the election, for the appointment of nine Conseillers to Chief Pleas. The purpose was to enable the public to question candidates about the policies on which they sought election. Mr Doyle was one of the candidates that took part in the event. He has made a complaint about the behaviour of the then Conseiller Reginald Guille towards him at the event. He says that the behaviour and words used by Conseiller Guille were in breach of the code of conduct for members of Chief Pleas. His complaint stated:
‘Mr Guille is a Conseiller. He is not, in respect of this complaint, an ordinary member of the public. At the Island Hall at 5.45pm on 10th December Mr Guille took it upon himself to sternly criticise the dignity, efficacy and lawful legitimacy of my nomination and candidacy toward the election to be held two days later. This revocation, though initially relatively calm, increased in temper with his index finger pointing at my chest, whilst he persistently sought the support of his table looking towards them.
This was, albeit informal, a husting at which I was present, to share views with my voting public. My complaint is that Mr Guille ought not to have chosen that occasion to vent his personal discordance towards me. In doing so, especially with regards to the nature and contempt of his maligned promises, which were that he personally is writing a law to stop people like me ever standing again and that his first motion if I am elected is to seek approval form the entire body of Chief Pleas for the ratification thereof, he was interfering in the process of my campaign inappropriately. He was attempting to usurp and rattle me and that is unacceptable behaviour for a non-standing Conseiller at the commencement of a free and fair democratic husting event.
Mr Guille did express his motives; motives that he may not have been aware of prior to reading my manifesto, namely that I see the continuing stream of Chief Pleas-approved Guernsey emanating legislation as unfair and keeping Sark independent as I do not wish to see increased taxes on Sark as a mean of funded government initiatives. Mr Guille suggested that I am motivated only by resentment and that I should “tell your probation officer he got it [the law] wrong”.
Mr Guille made me feel belittled and entirely unwelcomed to Chief Pleas. He made it clear that he would be against me from the very start. He ruined my evening and I feel sure that I lost ground that evening as I felt physically unnerved to go on speaking as the others did. Ironically it was Mr Guille that advised the procedure that I followed prior to applying in nomination. It was the subsequent manifesto that initiated that change.’
The code sets out the procedure for dealing with complaints. Mr Doyle was asked if he wished to put forward any further evidence; he said that there was none. It was decided after careful consideration by the panel that, if proven, the complaint would be within the scope of the code and should proceed to a full investigation.
A letter was written to Conseiller Guille on 11th January telling him of that decision reminding him of his rights under the procedures. It stated that it was not a finding on merit and it would only be after a full investigation of all of the evidence that a finding could be made. He was asked to put forward a written response and any other evidence that he wished the panel to consider. The code requires in 4(j):
‘All Conseillers shall fully co-operate with the panel and any investigation group. Failure to co-operate will be deemed a breach of the code.’
It is clear that Conseiller Guille was either unaware of, or chose to disregard, this legal requirement. Unfortunately, for whatever reasoning, he did not co-operate, and he did not put any evidence before us, or make any submissions on the evidence of Mr Doyle or the law.
Instead Conseiller Guille tendered his resignation to Chief Pleas at its meeting on 18th January. He said:
“Mr Speaker, you may stand down your Code of Conduct panel as you will have my letter of resignation as a Conseiller of Chief Pleas at the end of this meeting, to be effective immediately.”
The Speaker responded in these words:
“Can I just say that I had no concept from you that this was the subject of your statement. I say first that as the Returning Officer for the elections I took professional advice and accepted Michael Doyle as a fully eligible candidate. Regarding the code of conduct, it happens to be Chief Pleas’ code of conduct. It was passed by Chief Pleas and I am sorry to hear that you feel somehow or other you are not bound by it, actually you are and so is everybody else in this chamber.”
Does the resignation have the effect of ending matters? The panel is satisfied that the resignation does not bring the investigation to an end. The panel was asked to consider what happened on 10th December when Conseiller Guille was a member of Chief Pleas. The code provides that the panel can proceed if it is thought to be in the public interest to do so, even if the Conseiller withdraws; it is silent on the effect of a resignation. We consider that the obligation on a Conseiller to co-operate with the panel is primary. If he does not do so, it is in our judgement, in the public interest, that the investigation should proceed.
The result of the Conseillers’ [Guille] decision not to co-operate or put any evidence before the panel leaves the complaint unanswered and unchallenged. The consequence in law is that the only evidence that the panel had is Mr Doyles. With his lengthy experience of the law Conseiller Guille must have known that this would be the consequence. A husting event is an occasion for robust and forthright exchanges of opinions on policies and for reasoned discussions between candidates and electors. It has long been a part of the democratic process, but there is a line between such exchanges and what is personal abuse and behaviour which is threatening.
Conseiller Guille has great experience of the workings of Chief Pleas and is a powerful and influential figure in its operation. Whilst chair of the Policy & Finance Committee, the most significant of committees, Conseiller Guille held strong views on the legitimacy of Mr Doyles’ candidature. What he said and the manner of it was we are satisfied was done to intimidate Mr Doyle. He questioned the legitimacy of Mr Doyles’ candidature even though he knew it was lawful.
We accept and find as truthful Mr Doyles’ evidence that:
‘He made it clear that he would be against me from the very start and I felt unnerved to go on speaking as the others did. He made me feel belittled and entirely unwelcomed to Chief Pleas.’
In the absence of any other evidence to the contrary we accept that it did intimidate Mr Doyle by unnerving and belittling him in a manner which is contrary to Conseillers’ duty to maintain high standards of conduct. He clearly crossed the line of what is and is not acceptable. It was in our judgement conduct which did not display the high standards of leadership which is expected of a Conseiller. It is not for a member of Chief Pleas to determine and publicise who, in his or her opinion, is or is not a suitable candidate to be elected to Chief Pleas and Conseiller Guille did. This is a decision for the electorate.
We uphold Mr Doyles’ complaint.
A decision by the panel to recommend a sanction to Chief Pleas to consider is not straightforward. It is complicated by the fact that Reginald Guille has resigned as Conseiller but has been co-opted back onto Chief Pleas committees. The code of conduct complaint form, appendix B, page 20, though it is unhelpfully worded, allows registration of a complaint against an elected or co-opted member of the Chief Pleas. It is our view therefore that the code is intended to and does apply to co-opted members. The technicality of Conseiller Guille's’ resignation and subsequent co-option does not in our judgement frustrate the requirement of the panel to make a recommendation about the appropriate action to Chief Pleas.
The course of action recommended by the panel is that Chief Pleas require Reginald Guille to write a personal apology to Michael Doyle and a formal letter to the Speaker of Chief Pleas recognising that the code applies to co-opted members and apologising for his failure to co-operate as required to do so by the code. It appears to us that awareness of the code may not be widespread. We therefore recommend that new and existing members be made fully aware of the requirements and obligations of the code and that should happen periodically. The panel was His Honour, David Brunning, the Seigneur, Major Christopher Beaumont, Miss Lucy Belfield, Dr Richard Axton and Mrs Hazel Fry. 02/04/2019