20 Mar, 2024 @ 10:25
4 mins read

Transparency International calls for the Gibraltar government to add anti-interference clause to controversial new bill as corruption inquiry looms

THE government of Gibraltar is facing calls to include guarantees in the upcoming public inquiry bill to ensure it cannot be used to interfere in the McGrail inquiry.

Transparency International UK has sounded the alarm over the new bill, which will effectively give the government powers to delay or even shut down public inquiries. 

It is set to be controversially rushed through Parliament on Friday – bypassing the usual mandatory six-week debate – and pointedly less than a month before the McGrail inquiry begins.

The anti-corruption watchdog likened the move to ‘moving the goalposts and appointing yourself referee when you’ve just been cautioned for foul play.’

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo hit back, asserting that the new legislation will be ‘more agile and modern’, before adding he has ‘no intention of using it to stop the inquiry’. 

Picardo
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo will be sweating over the McGrail inquiry, finally set to start on April 8

The much-delayed investigation is looking into whether Picardo placed inappropriate pressure on former Police Commissioner Ian McGrail, 58, or interfered in police investigations before the latter’s shock retirement in June 2020.

Transparency International also questioned the timing of the new legislation, coming just three weeks before the inquiry begins on April 8.

“Given what’s at stake for the government and some leading figures, it’s understandable why some people are less than trusting of the government simply giving their ‘word’ they won’t use these new powers to interfere,” said Steve Goodrich, Transparency International Head of Research and Investigations.

Speaking exclusively to the Olive Press, he continued: “It should be relatively straightforward for the government to offer cast iron guarantees in the legislation that they will not and cannot interfere in the inquiry’s terms of reference, pace, or when it ends.”

He also claimed there had been no ‘cogent argument’ for the need to update the old legislation and rush it through now.

“It’s clear that this move is at least intended to intimidate the [McGrail] inquiry and possibly seek to fetter its independence,” Goodrich continued.

Mcgrail
Former Police Commissioner Ian McGrail resigned early in 2020 amid claims he had been pressured by the Chief Minister

“The ones bringing forward the bill and those who’ll stand to benefit are the same people who are going to be grilled by the inquiry.

“Under the current legislation it is the chair of the inquiry [retired British judge Sir Peter Openshaw] who has most of the discretion in how it proceeds.

“But under the new law, the very people being questioned would have much more of an ability to influence the inquiry. So there is quite clearly a conflict of interest.”

The Overseas Territory has argued that the new bill will modernise the existing Gibraltar Commissions of Inquiries Act, which dates back to 1888.

They also claim that it will be a direct copy of the more modern UK Inquiries Act, which dates from 2005.

“I’m not bringing to Gibraltar Vladimir Putin’s inquiries law,” Picardo told GBC News.

“I’m bringing in the most progressive and modern inquiries law there is in the United Kingdom.

“Not in order to have the power to be able to stop the inquiry, but in order to give the inquiry the agility and the modernity that it would have if it was being held in the UK.”

He pointed out that it was the same legislation that underpinned the UK’s Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war and the ongoing Covid inquiry.

The opposition Gibraltar Social Democrats called on the government to abandon their plans to pass the bill before the ‘McGrail Inquiry concludes its work’.

“The Chief Minister, Government and Office of the Governor are all deeply conflicted here,” the opposition ruled in a statement.

“There should be no step taken that looks as if any of those deeply conflicted parties are seeking to affect the Inquiry process.”

When contacted by the Olive Press, the government directed this newspaper to a press release which reiterated that it will ‘confirm on the record in Parliament that it has no intention to and will not seek to exercise the power to suspend or cancel the McGrail Inquiry or to otherwise affect its ability to fully and properly inquire into the reasons for the former Commissioner of Police’s early retirement.’

Gib Lit Fest 4
People stream in and out of Gibraltar across the border all day. Credit: Walter Finch

With this declaration, it looks like the inquiry is finally set to take place nearly a full four years after McGrail claimed he was forced from his job amid ‘misconduct and corruption at the highest level of government’.

The former commissioner announced he was retiring as Commissioner of Police after serving just two years of a four-year term without revealing his reasons behind the move at the time.

The Olive Press is aware of the allegations but will await the inquiry before publishing them.

The government went on to claim the former commissioner resigned because he had lost Picardo’s confidence and that of the then-Governor of Gibraltar, Nick Pyle.

The decision to retire early after 36 years with the Royal Gibraltar Police provoked fierce speculation and questions in parliament, with McGrail himself calling for the matter to be properly investigated.

An inquiry was set up at the request of the Chief Minister in February 2022, but it has since been dogged by a constant stream of delays and controversies, including Covid, a March 2023 data leak and ‘logistical problems’ in finding an appropriate judge.

In a further shock twist, McGrail was arrested for sexual assault in April 2023, but later cleared of all charges.

The inquiry’s most recent September 2023 start date was delayed once again over a criminal investigation into whether former and current police officers who testified against McGrail had received inducements.

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Walter Finch

Walter - or Walt to most people - is a former and sometimes still photographer and filmmaker who likes to dig under the surface.
A NCTJ-trained journalist, he came to the Costa del Sol - Gibraltar hotspot from the Daily Mail in 2022 to report on organised crime, corruption, financial fraud and a little bit of whatever is going on.
Got a story? [email protected]
@waltfinc

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