What Price a Broken Democracy?

10 12 2008

I am going to write about my experience yesterday, but due to various ongoing legal ramifications, it is better if I don’t mention names. For those who know me, I ask you not to mention any names either.

My parents are currently involved in an ongoing saga which is proving to be a real pain. Yesterday there was a meeting in which various councillors got together, plus representatives from the Rights of Way committee, to discuss our issue plus others. The process was as such: The chair ran through various bits of information left over from the last meeting, before inviting the RoW representative to talk, for as long as they like,  about the issue at hand. The discussion is then opened to the public gallery, and various people with different interests get to talk, for three minutes only,  about the issues. The discussion is then passed back to the councillors who get to discuss the matter for as long as they want, asking questions of the RoW people. The ‘public’ ie the people who have stood up to talk, do not get another say. When the issues have been understood the councillors vote to accept or reject the RoW’s proposals regarding any given case.

As I sat there, I found myself laughing at the complete nonsensical manner in which the meeting (which could be, and in our case is, costing a lot both in terms of lost working hours and legal costs) was run. As I see it there was so many things which were not democratic about this process:

1. Those whom the issue affects only get one opportunity to put forward their case, and this is in a tight time limit.

2. The RoW people get the opportunity to talk as much as they want (therefore pushing their case much more).

3. The public cannot respond to any debatable issues which the RoW people raise.

4. The councillors worked on the premise (false in this case) that the RoW people are the “experts” in the case.

These are just the issues in the running order, there are many more. The RoW is meant to be impartial, so in paperwork produced before the meeting, both sides of the case should be highlighted for the councillors benefit. This was not the case.

The councillors themselves should be impartial. Again this was not the case, with one obviously left-wing muppet passing some hugely irrelevant comment about the issue being indicative of the attitudes of the landed gentry.

The councillors should be consistant. One of the later cases was dismissed on grounds completely counter to what had been argued for our case. There was not a degree of consistancy.

The Chair should have a vague idea of what was happening. He didn’t. Time and time again he had to be corrected by various councillors and the clerk. If he cannot do his job properly, what chance is there for anyone else?

Frequently the RoW case reports were questioned by councillors as to their meaning, but no-one connected the repeated failings with incompetence. Instead the councillors remained adament that the RoW people were the best for the job.

There should be no conflicts of interest. The RoW person investigating our case was a member of the British Horse Society, who are arguing counter to us already. There will be much more about this soon I’m sure (I know other people in the process have wised up to this). Due to this conflict of interest, she did not present against us, but her supervisor did, who knew little of the case beyond the ‘facts’ in front of her.

The RoW people explained that in such cases only two types of evidence can be used, ‘historical’ and ‘user’. They cannot be used together. ‘User’ evidence is from people who have frequently used the path in question in the past 20 years. In our case there is none. Historical evidence is self explanatory, but in our case the evidence is debatable in interpretation. It is my feeling that the absence of one of these types of evidence should be a strong indication of the absence of the path, but due to the RoW’s self imposed regulations, this is not the case. If one is lacking, they explore the other type, building a case around poor evidence, but due to the problem highlighted earlier, they get the opportunity to plug this case as much as they want.

Despite these failings we won this round. Due to the constitution, the matter will now be brought back to the next meeting, and the RoW people get to present the same thing again. In effect they could keep coming back until they get a vote in their favour. I wrote down during the meeting the following phrase “A hugely frustrating display of incompetance and irrationality”. I feel this sums up the whole experience very well. To my mind the evidence is clear, the system is not just broken, it is completely destroyed. There needs to be a radical overhauling of such “democratic” processes as it is painfully apparent that the current ones are totally corrupt and useless. This won’t be the last you will hear on this issue, I assure you.

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