Governor deserves our respect

The Governor’s interventions during the last year (Clifford, Kernohan, Henderson etc.) have done real harm to nearly all of this country’s vital institutions, those which protect our society from chaos – the judiciary, the police, the government, and indeed the Governor’s own office.

Confidence has been eroded at home and abroad and our police force still has no permanent head. Obviously, this is not what the Governor had in mind. So what has gone wrong?

The idea that seems to have taken possession of the Governor is that, if anyone alleges any kind of misconduct in high places, the Governor’s response should be to make a public announcement, put the alleged wrongdoer in the public stocks and call on someone from the UK to conduct an investigation.

But this kind of ‘nuclear’ response should be a last resort, precisely because it is sure to cause the kind of fall-out we have seen. The media may be thrilled by the drama and controversy, but it does the country real harm. The nuclear button should only be pressed after careful consideration and advice, and only if there is no other way to go.

In all our cases the allegations or suspicions could and should have been dealt with in other ways.

I am not suggesting that anything should be swept under the rug. But when a doctor suspects that there may be something wrong he does not immediately cut open the patient. He looks for less invasive ways of investigating. The body politic requires the same care.

In our cases it appears (from what has been concluded by Sir Richard Tucker, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie and Sir Peter Cresswell) that the doctor could have discovered quite quickly and easily by following normal channels that there was nothing wrong – or nothing requiring surgery.

The irony is that the Governor’s UK team of police investigators has conducted itself in a manner worse than the allegations it was investigating, with scant regard for our laws and institutions. If you doubt that, take a look at Sir Peter Cresswell’s astonishing judgment.

Bridger should be sent back to the UK, along with his unqualified legal adviser. The rest of the team can finish anything that still needs to be done. It is not good enough to say that Bridger acted in good faith. Is good faith all that we require of the police? Has anyone suggested that Kernohan did not act in good faith? If anyone needs to be held publicly to proper standards, it is the policeman brought in to enforce proper standards.

Though the Governor’s interventions have had no good outcomes thus far, there may be a silver lining to this cloud. People who previously had doubts may now see why we need to modernise the Constitution, as the elected Government has proposed.

The Governor is the Queen’s representative but he is only human. He is not an infallible super-hero. Intellect, political neutrality and good intentions are important but they are not enough.

Now that the days of Empire are over, the UK does not have a pool of experienced colonial officers who have worked their way up the ranks. So now we are given governors who have no prior experience of government – and, of course, no local knowledge. The people in London are no better placed. So our Constitution needs to make sure that they receive reliable local information and wise advice before important decisions are made.

But let us criticise the Governor reluctantly. Consider that this public servant was parachuted into unfamiliar territory to hold high office and high responsibility for things in which he has no experience, under the eye of local politicians and media.

Why would anyone take on such a task? Surely it requires a strong sense of duty and service. And surely this person deserves respect even when we think he has erred.

Antony Duckworth

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