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Tivoli enquiry flaw. Lack of deadline for statements could hurt inquest, says lawyer

Published:Tuesday | October 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

AN ATTORNEY for the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) has pointed to a flaw in the procedures for the handling of witness statements that will be used in the west Kingston commission of enquiry and has warned that it could "undermine" the process.

Weeks before a possible start to the long-anticipated hearing into the 2010 Tivoli Gardens police-military operation, Linton Gordon, the army's lead attorney, says the procedures do not stipulate a deadline for potential witnesses to submit statements.

The result of this, Gordon argued, is that some persons could end up submitting their statement and, because of disclosure requirements, those statements are served on persons who have not yet written their statements.

"So you run the danger of those persons now reading your statement and writing their statement in the form of a rebuttal and also omitting things they would have put in as well as putting in things they would not have put in in order to rebut or to support or to vary whatever you have said," he reasoned.

To counter this, Gordon suggested that the commission "refine" the procedures by creating a deadline for all statements to be submitted, except in circumstances where the content of such a statement could not have been anticipated.

"If you don't do that, it will compromise, embarrass and perhaps simplify the effect of the enquiry," he argued.

Mid-November deadline

Senior legal adviser to the commission, Garth McBean, conceded that it was a legitimate concern and said the commission now plans to impose a mid-November deadline for all witness statements to be submitted.

McBean explained that no deadline was imposed because the commission did not want to discourage potential witnesses from coming forward.

He told The Gleaner yesterday

that as far as he was aware, the budget for the enquiry was in place and everything was on track for the start of hearings on December 1.

However, pointing out that no one from Tivoli Gardens has come forward to give evidence, McBean said what happens on that day will depend on the number of witnesses available.

Yesterday, the Legal Aid Clinic also announced that it had secured the services of private attorneys to provide legal representation for persons who wanted to testify at the hearing.

The Office of the Public Defender, in its interim report to Parliament, revealed that 76 civilians and one member of the JDF were killed in the May 2010 operation to capture then fugitive Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

The former Tivoli Gardens strongman, who was wanted at the time on an arrest warrant, has since been convicted on racketeering charges in the United States and is now serving a 23-year prison sentence.

The justice ministry, in a statement yesterday, said the three-member commission has been asked to wrap up the enquiry within three months and submit a full report and recommendations two months later.