If you are a non-Gibraltarian who visits the Rock you will be struck by the thriving, modern society that exists all around you. You would chat with a sophisticated people. You would assume, wrongly, that Gibraltarians enjoy the same basic human rights as their British counterparts, or indeed Spaniards across the border, but you would be wrong.
In many instances Gibraltarians are in a rights limbo. If they were in the UK those rights would be protected by law and they would have redress under a whole series of headings against government, officials and so on. That is not true on the Rock because if a Gibraltarian has a complaint it is addressed, quite rightly to the Gibraltar Government, and not that of Britain. However all too often their own government legally turns a deaf ear because few rights are enshrined in law.
If a Gibraltarian seeks justice he or she can’t go to the UK government either because it does not have jurisdiction here. Therefore the only route is to Europe where, in theory, their case has the right to be heard. Yet even that is fraught with problems because in Brussels the conclusion would more often than not be that as British Citizens the British Government should be held to account to sort it out, which of course, it can’t.
It was put to me recently that the chief minister, Peter Caruana, was far from pleased when Gibraltarians received the Euro vote and hence a voice in the European Parliament. I had never thought about it before because it seemed strange to me that the elected leader of the Gibraltarian people would not want them to enjoy the widest representation. On the other hand it meant they had a right to go directly to Brussels or the European Parliament on issues that the chief minister might consider only he should have control over. For some democratic leaders democracy is a bitter pill to swallow.
Marcus Killick, the chairman of the Financial Services Commission, recently called for an Ombudsman to represent customers in their relations with the financial sector. For non-Gibraltarians it is startling to learn that those who live on the Rock do not enjoy such a vital service that is considered the norm elsewhere in the EU – yet so far there is no indication the government will give a positive answer to Killick’s plea.
Indeed as the general election draws near the rights of Gibraltarians to have free access to these basic rights and open government will reach a crescendo. The problem for the GSD is the party has been in government for four terms and has paid scant regard to the fundamental rights of its people. Hence a cynic might say if Caruana suddenly takes on the guise of St Paul on the road to Damascus on these key issues his conversation will be on a par with the Syrian president’s claim to have discovered democracy – not worth the scroll it is written on.