Guiding our politicians’ integrity.

The Nolan Principles1, established in 1995 by Lord Nolan in the UK, articulate a set of seven ethical guidelines for public service: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty, and Leadership. While these principles were specifically designed for the UK public sector, their relevance extends beyond national boundaries, offering a universal framework for public officials, including those in Guernsey.

Guernsey, not a part of the United Kingdom, has its own distinct political and administrative systems. However, the need for ethical conduct in public life is a universal concern. Guernsey addresses this through its own Code of Conduct for Members of the States of Deliberation2. This Code mirrors many of the Nolan Principles, emphasizing key values such as public duty, conflict of interest management, impartiality, and the handling of confidential information.

As a small jurisdiction, Guernsey suffers from special problems. For example, politicians often face unique challenges due to the close community ties, limited resources, intertwined economy, and the need for clear and transparent decision-making.

The Guernsey Code as it now is, covers several crucial areas:

  1. Public Duty: Members take an oath of allegiance and office, committing to faithfully perform their duties.
  2. Personal Conduct Principles: Aligning with Nolan Principles, the Code focuses on selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership.
  3. Conflict of Interest: Emphasizes the need for members to act in the public interest and avoid personal conflicts.
  4. Relationship with Civil Service: Ensures the upholding of political impartiality and consideration of impartial advice.
  5. Gifts and Hospitality: Guides members on avoiding inappropriate gifts that might imply obligation.
  6. Use of States Facilities: Stipulates using government resources solely for official purposes.
  7. Register and Declaration of Interests: Requires members to declare interests and restricts retention of gifts.
  8. Confidential Information: Mandates responsible handling of sensitive information.
  9. Complaints Procedure: Details procedures for addressing breaches.
  10. Penalties for Breaches: Specifies sanctions ranging from cautioning to expulsion.

Scope and improvement.

An important aspect of the Code is the enforcement of rules across different terms of office. This approach acknowledges that ethical responsibilities and the consequences of misconduct extend beyond the current term. It reinforces the principle that public office is a trust granted by the public, requiring ongoing accountability.

A loophole is the ability of politicians to evade sanctions by resigning. For example, in the UK, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards3 primarily investigates the conduct of current Members of Parliament. Once an MP resigns, they are no longer under the jurisdiction of this Commissioner, and typically, investigations into their conduct do not continue. My argument is that Guernsey cannot afford such a luxury.

An essential enhancement to this Guernsey Code would be a public registry of each politician’s interests, maintained for all years of their public office tenure, not just the most recent disclosures. For example, such a register is available for company directors in the UK. Such transparency is crucial for public trust, allowing for thorough scrutiny of politicians’ interests/conflicts over time.

I propose that Code of Conduct breaches should be publicly displayed alongside the register of interests. By making such information public, poor conduct will carry a reputational cost, serving as a deterrent and maintaining integrity, even if the politician leaves office. It is not acceptable that a member of the public must proactively search through old Billets d’État on a website with inadequate search facilities4 in the hope of finding whether a Deputy has transgressed. Such information should be readily available, online.

When everyone clearly knows the ethical standards of an organization they are more likely to rec-
ognize wrongdoing; and do something about it. Second, miscreants are often hesitant to commit an
unethical act if they believe that everyone else around them knows it is wrong. And, finally corrupt
individuals believe that they are more likely to get caught in environments that emphasize ethical

OSCE – Professional and Ethical Standards
for Parliamentarians5

Codes of ethics are not designed to target inherently ‘bad’ people but as a generality to assist those who aim to act ethically yet may lack clear guidance on what constitutes ethical behaviour.

Applying ethical standards in public life faces challenges, particularly regarding retroactivity and the appropriateness of sanctions. Generally, it’s a sound principle that new rules should not be applied retroactively. However, if a behaviour was considered unethical under previous standards, it can still be subject to scrutiny. In such cases, the assessment should be based on the guidelines in place at the time of the behaviour, ensuring fairness and certainty.

Another significant issue is reporting potential breaches so that sanctions can be enforced. There’s a tendency in Guernsey to address minor transgressions, such as making offensive remarks, more seriously than serious infractions like politicians financially benefiting (or their friends/business acquaintances doing so) through public office. This discrepancy can be attributed to the complexity of investigating serious violations, the higher stakes involved, and the shared embarrassment a serious transgression might bring. Yet, this approach leaves deeper, more damaging ethical breaches unaddressed, creating a gap in the enforcement of standards and undermining public trust. It’s therefore crucial that the enforcement of the code of conduct be applied consistently, irrespective of the violation’s severity. The selective enforcement of rules undermines the principles of accountability and equality before the law and can lead to public distrust.

It is hoped that this situation will change now that Guernsey has adopted a pan-island Commissioner for Standards.

We now need to address the issue of accountability for the Civil Service. At the moment, there is all but none. I discuss that in this section.


What we have now:

  • Guernsey’s Politicians and the Code of Conduct: Guernsey’s politicians are bound by their own Code of Conduct, which is a significant step in ensuring ethical behaviour in public office.
  • The Nolan Principles as a Benchmark: The Nolan Principles, although originating in the UK, serve as a valuable ethical benchmark, providing a universal framework for integrity in public service.
  • Pan-Island Commissioner for Standards: The introduction of a pan-Island Commissioner for Standards is a significant development. Because the office holder is independent and from outside the Islands, the role can play a pivotal part in ensuring the Code of Conduct is applied effectively, consistently and impartially.
  • Fair and Consistent Application of the Code: Fair and consistent application of the Code is essential and I’m sure this will come now that we have an independent commissioner.

What we should adopt:

  • Comprehensive Public Registry of Interests: The inclusion of a comprehensive public registry of interests for every change during an official’s term is crucial. The register should remain after a term ends, in perpetuity. This ensures transparency and allows the public to scrutinize the interests and potential conflicts of politicians over time.
  • Public Registry of Infractions: The above public register should include the public notice of infractions, ensuring that any breaches of conduct are openly acknowledged and addressed.
  • Investigation Post-Political Term: The ability to investigate and determine breaches even after an official’s political term ends is vital. This measure addresses the loophole where politicians evade accountability by resigning and ‘maintaining integrity’ beyond their term in office.

Overall, these steps are essential for maintaining public trust and the integrity of public officials in Guernsey, ensuring that the principles of accountability and transparency are upheld in public life6,7.

  1. Nolan–2 []
  2. Guernsey code of conduct []
  3. UK Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards []
  4. poor searching: []
  5. p 35 []
  6. OSCE, importance of ethical conduct for parliamentarians, need for clear standards to ensure transparency, accountability, and the prevention of corruption in democratic systems []
  7. UK Gov. Upholding Standards in Public Life []