Anonymity, with or without pseudonyms, has predominated comments in this blog. I do not consider that anonymity is a good symptom of a democracy. At the ballot box one understands it perfectly but it is not really understandable when it predominates political commentary in a society that proudly announces that it is a defender of democratic rights.
Anonymity should not be necessary in a jurisdiction that has boasted the inclusion of freedom of expression in its constitution since 1969. It is not right when we fought for so many years against succumbing to a then fascist Spain in which freedom of expression was not a possibility. It is not conducive to making the fundamental changes that Gibraltar needs to make in evolving as a truly mature self-governing territory. It militates against persons volunteering to enter politics and so reduces the candidature from which our Parliament can be chosen at elections. Unfortunately often there are enormous actual or perceived pressures bearing down on individuals that militate toward their non-participation in public political debate or their participation without identifying themselves.
Gibraltar is a territory in which an enormous percentage of the working population is employed by Government. Add to this the large number of persons who are appointed to serve on statutory bodies and authorities or who aspire to do so. These factors bear down not just on those who are direct employees or appointees but also on their immediate family. There is a perception that expressing opinions adverse to politicians or, more likely, their policies, whether that party is presently in Government or has the potential to be in Government in the future, might adversely affect their employment or, at least, their prospects of promotion or their appointment or chances of appointment. All this is a further example of the democratic deficit that exists in Gibraltar.
It can be solved easily. All there needs to be is a desire by Parliament to legislate in manner that will create the necessary environment to allow the free and proper exercise of all constitutional rights and freedoms. One first step is to publicise understandable codes for all grades of public employees and appointees to public bodies and authorities. Such a code needs to be permissive rather than restrictive in the sense that it should only proscribe that which is clearly necessary and essential for each grade or description of person that it is aimed at. Overly restrictive provisions would simply institutionalise a centralised and regressive "big brother" style of autocracy that exists today by reason of the non-existent of any guiding principles giving rise to the fear that I write about.
The solution does not stop there. In addition to the codes, there is a need to create an independent tribunal to which complaints of breaches can be referred to efficiently, quickly and cheaply. The tribunal needs to be structured so that complainants will get all the necessary help to instigate and process their complaints without the need to resort to lawyers for advice and help. In short an easy access system of redress modeled on the Ombudsman but with effective power to implement and enforce its decisions.
In the meantime thank you to those who comment in their own name. I urge those who do not to carefully consider their decision and take the step (sometimes brave, I know, I did it) to identify themselves. Those who feel they need to remain anonymous, well fine, I will continue to publish their comments, in the hope that in time the safeguards that I suggest might well become law. Perhaps all or, at least some, of our politicians might adopt a New Year resolution to improve our democracy soon. It has been promised by many of them, why not deliver it once and for all?
Freedom of Expression in England and under the ECHR: In Search of a Common Ground: A Foundation for the Application of the Human Rights Act 1998 in English Law (School of Human Rights Research) (v. 6)