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Harrison-Henry vows to defend rights of all

Published:Monday | February 9, 2015 | 2:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin

Arlene Harrison Henry, who was appointed recently as Jamaica's first female public defender, has indicated that her mission is to defend the rights of all citizens, especially the vulnerable groups in society.

Harrison Henry told The Gleaner on the weekend that she has concerns for the disabled community as there are a myriad human rights issues that must be addressed.

"The disabled group rests heavily on my heart because the truth is, some of them will not be able to come through the front door (of the office) if they have a complaint. They will have to come through the back door because it's much easier," the public defender said. "It's unfortunate because there are many issues that face this community. I will not only be sympathetic, but my aim is to protect the rights of all citizens and work hard to fill the gaps.

"The LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender) group is also a delicate matter in our country, but they, too, are entitled to equality, representation, and equal protection of laws," she said.

Henry added: "The bottom line is I won't be partial, and if I encounter someone from that group whose rights have been breached, I will be defending them just the same, and every sector in society will be represented."

plans in place for mandate

While expressing concern about the visibility of the office to the public, she said a lot of plans were in place to ensure that the office fulfilled its mandate.

"The truth is, I am not sure that the people have a lot of confidence in the office because it has received several blows. It is an office that is given the legislative power to protect and defend the human rights of Jamaicans, that's how serious it is," she lamented.

"This is not a playground. It is to sit and work out programmes of how we engage ourselves in every administration so that people across Jamaica, not only Kingston and St Andrew, ... know that there is a public defender's office," she declared.

Harrison Henry also indicated that security issues would top of her agenda.

"I have a meeting very soon with the police commissioner (Dr Carl Williams) because there are areas that we have to constantly monitor as it relates to persons in police custody. We have seen where there have been several incidents, including death, assault, unlawful detention, and the failure to take somebody to court, and so I want to work out these issues with the commissioner, who I know is very sensitive to these issues," she said.

jodi-ann.gilpin@gleanerjm.com