Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Did you pack your bags yourself, Sir?

Our previous post revealed that, according to the Department for Transport, the only advice received by Mr Jim Fitzpatrick, the Transport Minister, in response to our complaint about the Gaul RFI, was the draft of his letter to the Shadow Transport Minister, as jotted down by some unnamed DfT officials.
Forgetting the candid Mr Fitzpatrick for a moment, we turn our attention again towards Mr Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Transport, for it is Mr Hoon himself who is obliged under the provisions of the 1995 Merchant Shipping Act to order a re-hearing of the Gaul RFI, if it “appears” to him that there are “grounds for suspecting that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred”.

In his recent statement (see HERE) the Secretary of State for Transport asserted that there were “no grounds for suspecting that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred” during the Gaul RFI, although - as his own Department currently maintains - the grounds put forward by us have never been properly examined.
In fact, Mr Hoon made sure that no adequate technical counsel was obtained, lest the ‘grounds for suspecting a miscarriage of justice’ would become too ‘apparent’ to him, obliging him to re-open the case. (That is assuming he didn’t know the truth already.)
His contrived ignorance of the matter may also be seen as a precautionary measure taken with a view to escaping future liability: if ever brought to account, Mr Hoon must have reckoned, he would be able to claim lack of knowledge about the technical basis of our arguments.

Thus, like the drug courier who refrains from looking in his suitcase, Mr Hoon has avoided asking for expert advice, shielding his eyes from any unwanted knowledge.
As a lawyer, however, Mr Hoon can be no ingénue in such legal matters and should be aware that this is not how things work in the normal world. Courts are known to have decreed many times in the past that the ignorance-pleading smuggler should have known, and they may likewise, one day, decide that Mr Hoon should have asked.

(Related POST)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Draft advice

The latest answer from the Department for Transport to one of our FOI requests contains an attractive twist.
Our initial query concerned the source of the technical advice given to the Transport Minister, Mr Jim Fitzpatrick, in response to our criticisms of the Gaul RFI.
In response, the DfT informs us that the exclusive source of that ‘advice’, which Mr Fitzpatrick claimed to have received in his letter to the Shadow Minister for Transport, was nothing else but the very draft of that letter – i.e. the one in which he declared himself advised…?!
Génial!! The DfT reply may not be very informative, but, one must admit, it has a notable artistic value.

The common practice, as far as I am aware, given that there are no marine specialists within the Department itself, is to seek technical counsel from one of the DfT’s agencies: i.e. the MCA [1] or the MAIB [2]. The DfT, however, informs us that “no request for additional information was made by the Minister”.
So which officials within the DfT assessed the technical evidence we had provided?
Are we to assume that, perhaps, the Shadow Minister for Transport was corresponding, in fact, with one of Mr Fitzpatrick’s typists?
Is it not more likely that, as it nowadays happens, the Minister outlined his politics-driven decision and then asked the DfT civil servants to draft his response along those lines? Common sense and experience tell us that no official would make ministerial decisions in his place – especially when the issues at stake are both complex and sensitive.
Whatever the case, the statement in Mr Fitzpatrick’s letter: “I am advised that there is no reason to re-open the investigation” now looks as though it had been intended to mislead his Opposition counter-part into assuming that, maybe, a great assembly of experts and scholars had been drawn in to review and offer advice on our criticism of the Gaul RFI.

Put together in one piece, all the correspondence received so far from the DfT looks like a Möbius strip: however attentively you follow it, you will always end up on the opposite side without crossing any boundary – a loop that takes you without interruption from back to front and front to back, without giving you any sign or orientation.

[1] Martime and Coastguard Agency
[2] Marine Accident Investigation Branch