It was both a pleasing and an exciting development to learn shortly before the Christmas holidays of the appointment of Deborah McMillan as Children’s Commissioner for Jersey.
This will be a very wide ranging and enormously important position. The drafting of the legislation that will set out the role has, of course, yet to be done, so this will pose the first challenge. There have been criticisms made, for example, as to the ambit of the various roles of Commissioner in different parts of the UK and this will no doubt inform the process.
The Commissioner will need to have investigatory powers as well as a platform to influence and, if necessary, challenge decisions, law and policy. Given that the role follows the recommendation of the Jersey Care Inquiry, it might even be appropriate for the Inquiry panel to comment upon any draft.
It was pleasing to read from the recent announcement that adherence to and promotion of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is seen as a very significant part of the role. Hopefully, the States might be persuaded to implement a complaints’ mechanism for alleged breach of this important Convention and, better still, give the Convention real force by incorporating it into Jersey law. The latter idea will no doubt take years to work through, just as the Human Rights (Jersey) Law 2000 took a further 6 years before it was actually brought into effect. Inroads could therefore be achieved quickly in this respect by imposing a specific duty on Ministers to consider the UNCRC when exercising their functions, as has already occurred in Wales.
Where proposed decisions, policies or legislation affect children’s rights, an “impact” assessment might be compiled and published by the States in accordance with the UNCRC to ensure transparency and bolster confidence in the processes of the States.
The role of Commissioner is, however, rather daunting and will extend far beyond this in a myriad of different ways. It will no doubt extend to improving mental health provision for children and young persons, where statistics show that a third of self-harm admissions for 2013-2015 were for those under 20 years of age; the far greater proportion of these being girls. Liaison with the UK Commissioners will be particularly important in respect of wider campaigns, such as the overuse of computers by children and the dangers of social media; aspects that have been prominent both last year and even this month. They are pressing issues in Jersey as much as they are outside the Island.
Early progress in the role of Commissioner will be important, not least so as to vindicate the faith reposed in the creation of such office, but more importantly, given those that have already suffered ill-treatment as children and young persons, and those that remain at risk. The appointment of Mrs McMillan and her team are therefore much welcomed.