Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Enquiry First Order of Business- New Public Defender

Published:Saturday | January 17, 2015 | 12:01 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin

DECLARING THAT every effort should be made to ensure that truth is uncovered and justice is served, the country's first newly appointed female public defender, Arlene Harrison Henry, has placed the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry as her immediate

priority.

Harrison Henry was yesterday sworn in at King's House in St Andrew.

More than 70 people died in an operation by the security forces in 2010 to capture then drug runner Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

The enquiry's sittings for the past year ended in December, and are expected to resume in February.

"I believe it (enquiry) to be the most important commission of enquiry in our independent history. A section of people were traumatised by the loss of loved ones and by what they saw, and damaged properties. As such, it is the public defender's duty to uncover nothing but the truth," she said.

"I don't know what exactly is at the office in terms of material, but looking on, you can see that there is need for some work. Our legal team, for instance, certainly needs bolstering. There needs to be a greater and better balance of force, and there needs to be an equality of arms," the public defender told The Gleaner.

She added, "It is a mammoth undertaking because we have to provide the material to the commission of enquiry so that the country knows the truth and what happened in those days. We are ready for the challenges because we will not be settling for partial truth."

She also said that, following her visit to the office in the afternoon (yesterday), she is hoping to garner as much knowledge to immediately

start implementing strategic plans. The public defender is also calling for the matter of human rights to become a serious issue among the youth.

"I am really here to discharge the mandate contained in the Public Defender Act, which is protecting and enforcing the rights of all citizens. I am waiting to get in office so that I can meet with the staff to discuss an overall plan, because we do need a strategic mechanism," Harrison Henry said.

"I would want to see human rights being taught throughout the school system, that we treat it as an important aspect of our culture. We must come to a place where we recognise that there are differences between us but, at the same time, we respect each other," she said.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, in her address, noted that it was a historic moment for Jamaica, adding that Harrison Henry was the right person for the job.

"Mrs Harrison (Henry) is a long-standing advocate for the protection of human rights. Her track record recommends her for this job. This is a historic moment for Jamaica as she is the first female public defender. and not only is the aspect of gender important, but because she has been objectively assessed and chosen for the job at this time," she declared.