Surprising Police Authority Appointment

The appointment of a former Partner and now Consultant of Hassans as the Chairman of the Police Authority is surprising and inappropriate as it undermines public confidence in the appointment. The Chairman of the Police Authority should not be drawn from the same law firm as the Chief Minister.

This simply does not look good. The Chief Minister should have used his power to ensure that the next Chairman would not be drawn from Hassans, the firm with which he and senior Ministers have close links. In the event the reverse has happened and shows the Chief Minister is simply going about his business like before without factoring in any criticisms of the past. This undermines public confidence in the appointment of the Chairman of the Police Authority.

For weeks the McGrail Inquiry has heard significant evidence in relation to conflicts of interest arising from the Chief Minister’s interests in and his relationship with Hassans and some of its senior lawyers. The former Commissioner of Police and Police Authority are at the heart of that Inquiry which has also heard evidence of the influence that the Chief Minister brought to bear on the decision-making of the Police Authority.  There have been allegations made before that Inquiry of inappropriate conduct by the Chief Minister and an inability to ringfence conflicts in a way that affected institutions or affected how things should be done. That Inquiry has not concluded and still less reported.

For a new Police Authority Chairman to be drawn from Hassans when the Inquiry Chairman has not yet reported is a blinkered appointment done in blatant disregard of what is a current live governance issue in Gibraltar.

Mr Montegriffo is an excellent lawyer of unimpeachable reputation. Were it not for the fact that he is a former Partner and now Consultant practitioner at Hassans his appointment would be welcomed and without reproach. But the long-standing professional relationships between Hassans and the Chief Minister and other senior members of his cabinet are inescapable and inevitably affect the public perception of the appointment. One of those senior members of the Cabinet linked to Hassans is also Minister for Justice who again has clear interplay in the field of policing. From a governance perspective the appointment should not only be the right one it should be seen to be right and the optics of an appointment of a lawyer from the Chief Minister’s law firm to this sensitive post are just wrong.

Quite apart from everything that is currently before the Inquiry it is important to reflect on what this all means for future governance structures, the making of appointments to public posts and how conflicts of interest are properly contained. An immediate lesson that should be drawn is that given the sensitivity of the post the Chairman of the Police Authority should not be drawn from the same law firm as the Chief Minister.

It is clear from the Police Act that the appointment of a Police Authority Chairman is made from persons proposed by the Governor or Chief Minister. Given that the Governor has only been here for a few days it is likely that the appointment was heavily influenced by names proposed by and with the approval of the Chief Minister.

Even if that was not the case the appointment would still be inappropriate because of the perception it creates. In circumstances where the Chief Minister and other senior Ministers have a relationship with Hassans it does not help the perception of good governance for a former partner of Hassans who has been a lawyer there for 35 years to be appointed as Chairman of the Police Authority – an authority that is at the heart of policing, was created by the Constitution and needs to play a careful role in institutional balance in the interests of good governance.