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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A quasi-judicial capacity

The Assembly has been busier than usual this week as we once more enter new territory, what is known as a Standing Order 25 Committee to consider a petition by Pembrokeshire County Council against a Welsh Assembly Government scheme to build a three lane highway out west. I am not completely familiar with the issues but I believe that the Council want a dual carriageway instead.

What this means is that a special committee of Assembly Members has been established to consider the submissions from both parties, the Council and the Government. The members are sitting in a quasi-judicial capacity in the same way as they might be if they were considering a planning appeal and that means that they cannot pre-judge the issue. They need to listen to all the evidence before making up their minds.

The hearing is costing a fortune to stage. As well as a solid week of Assembly time, including support staff, facilities etc, both sides are represented by high quality QCs, and they do not come cheap. The last thing we needed was a delay, which would lead to a lost day in the hearing at the cost of thousands of pounds of public money but that is what we got today.

Why did that happen? I cannot do better than to reproduce the appropriate section of the record of proceedings:

MR RODDICK: I make this application with considerable regret, and I make it after the most careful consideration. But were it not for its importance, I would not be making it. It is one that affects the validity of the hearing despite the passage you have just read out, and I am not sure, Madam Chair, that you can give me the assurance as to how another member's mind remains open or becomes closed. That is a matter for the individual. Therefore, I am going to ask -- my application is, and it is a very invidious one -- that Mr Asghar Withdraws. His intervention yesterday during the evidence of Mr David White on behalf of Pembroke demonstrated: a mind made up, bias and prejudice. It was nothing less than an outburst, and was not made through the Chair. It was, if I might say, in proceedings of this kind, highly unusual, and of a kind I have never seen before in the whole of my professional career at the Bar.

It was very strong language, and left one in no doubt that here was a member of the Committee who had made up his mind to reject PCC's case before its completion and before considering of the closing submissions.

THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I note your comments, Mr Roddick.

MR RODDICK: I haven't finished.

THE CHAIRMAN: If you continue then, please.

MR RODDICK: He was in breach of one of the fundamental requirements of someone sitting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity, which this committee is doing, namely the duty 1 to keep an open mind, 2 not to prejudge or to use the Latin version of that, prejudiciae(?), and 3 let the petitioner put his case. Very important is the principle not just that justice be done, but it should be seen to be done, and I'm afraid what we saw yestrday demonstrated it was not being done and despite the assurance that you have given me today, it doesn't appear to be done. He also demonstrated a serious misunderstanding of his role when he said the role was to scrutinise PCC's witnesses. The Committee is not sitting as a scrutiny committee. It is sitting judicially. Pembroke is not here to account for its conduct or its public decisions. It is here to prosecute a petition which the law grants it the right to do. So he was -- there might be certain consequences to this. That is a matter for the standing orders, but that is my application and I make it seriously for those very serious reasons.

Earlier this afternoon Plenary voted to replace Mohammed Ashgar on the Committee after he voluntarily stood down.
Probably timwe that the Assembly invested in a copy of "Roberts Rule of Order". It certainly is a useful publication on this side of the pond!
This is a busy stretch between st.clears and Haverfordwest. The amount of lorries using ferry terminals at Pembroke dock and fishguard can make visibility difficult for drivers. I think a seperate sliproad for LGV's flanking
the A40 would be a solution rather than three lanes or even two.
Three lane highways went out with the Ark, why is WAG even considering a Three Line highway?

The "Heads of the Valley" road was three lanes and there was always deaths and crashes on it.
County councils are there to represent the wishes of the people of a particular area - in this case, Pembrokeshire. What PCC are proposing is a dual carriageway as opposed to a 3 lane road, which makes perfect sense, as 3 lane roads are exceedingly dangerous.

If WAG decide their proposal is the one to go for, this once again shows the arrogance of an institution, which (despite the yes vote 10 or more years ago) most people in Wales didn't want and since, have become thoroughly disillusioned with.
I'd LibDig this if it wasn't a closed system !!

Three lane highways are dreadful. Better a wide 2-laner, then the risks are clearer.
I would think that a dual carriageway would make more sense. I assume that this is probably a cheaper option! Which makes me wonder whether they give a hoot about safety? I will have to read the transcript for yesterday Peter.
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