Sir David Simmons determined to ensure justice for members of the security forces and residents of Tivoli
The West Kingston Commission of Enquiry, under the chairmanship of the retired chief justice of Barbados, Sir David Simmons, has Jamaicans tuning in for several reasons, but none more so than the style of the man leading the charge.
Sir David's treatment of everyone who has appeared before the commission has earned him the respect of those participating, as well as the scores of Jamaicans who stay glued to their televisions for every minute of the sittings.
This is no surprise. Sir David is no stranger to such assignments, having chaired the Integrity Commission in Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) after that country passed legislation for such a body to which people in public life would declare their assets and liabilities.
He was asked by the then governor of the TCI to set up the commission and chair it - and he still does.
Sir David also chaired the commission of enquiry into the attempted coup in Trinidad and Tobago following his retirement from public service in 2010.
"Trinidad asked me if I would do it, I consulted family and they said yes. Prior to that, in 2008, there was a judge in Cayman into whom an enquiry was done and I was one of three who sat on that tribunal," Sir David told The Sunday Gleaner during an exclusive interview at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel.
STINT IN TURKS AND CAICOS
Stemming from his experience in regional enquiries, he was also asked to head the Integrity Committee set up by the regional football governing body CONCACAF in 2013 to examine certain aspects of its management while it was under the leadership of the now-embattled Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer.
"We produced a report that is now available on the Internet. That was the forerunner to the investigation now going on into allegations about Warner and other FIFA officials," said Sir David.
Those findings showed that both men had been very fraudulent in the management of CONCACAF and were in breach of the world football-governing body FIFA statutes and code of ethics.
"It caused a stir, which led to the resignation of Warner as a minister of government."
So, last February, he received a call from Jamaica's Attorney General Patrick Atkinson, asking whether he would be available to be a member of the West Kingston Commission. Sir David requested time to ponder it.
"The persons I consulted with were all hesitant in giving me the go-ahead, so I made the decision on my own," he said. However, he told Atkinson that whereas he did not mind being a member of the commission, he had no desire to chair it.
"But Attorney General Atkinson explained that the Government preferred to have a non-Jamaican who could be objective and dispassionate. Reluctantly, I agreed, and the rest is history."
And a good decision too, because from the start, Sir David's balanced, professional style earned him a place in the hearts of Jamaicans. Many Jamaicans see Sir David's handling of the Tivoli commission in a positive light, and heap kudos on him after each day's sitting. He controls proceedings professionally but palatably.
But just how did Sir David arrive at this juncture in his illustrious career? One possible explanation he posits is that during his 25 years in Barbadian politics, he increased his majority with each successive election.
Succeeding former Prime Minister Tom Adams in his constituency, Sir David received more votes than his predecessor ever got. It was a low point in the history of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP), but a high point in his political career.
In reflection he offered: "In the 1986 general election, the BLP got three seats to the DLP's (Democratic Labour Party's) 24. I was one of an opposition of three. The question was, 'How come my party lost 24 seats?' Three of us survived and one of them was me. I cannot explain it; the people would have the answer.
"Perhaps I resonated with them, so in the face of an avalanche of votes against my party, I was still able to swim against the tide successfully."
He concludes that a newspaper editorial here described him as having a reputation for fairness and he was humbled that a Jamaican newspaper had researched him so well that they could draw such a conclusion.
"That [fairness]," said Sir David, "is perhaps the pre-eminent requirement for the judicial officer, who should be fair."
The Sunday Gleaner was curious as to which of the many colourful witnesses to date had achieved 'most favourite' status in Sir David's estimation. He said that he was not at home at the time, but after the second sitting a film clip was aired on Barbados television news.
"It was Adina 'Rosie'
Derby who was giving evidence and some of the inter-change between them was shown. Barbadians raved about it so much, they even wanted me to get DVDs of her evidence for them," said Sir David, smiling at the recollection. Derby used Jamaican Patois and he said his friends wanted to know whether he understood her - and he did.
"I understood her. I am a regionalist and a Caribbean man. I met many Jamaicans while studying in London, and over the years, I have maintained lasting friendships with them, starting in 1960, when I arrived there," he said, adding that he still has scores of friends with whom he meets during his downtime in Jamaica.
However, he remains balanced, composed, respectful, and injects humour when necessary.
"It must be intuition. Having been a judge and chief justice, you learn how to do the business of judging. There are some essential cannons of best practice, including not making up your mind too early, listening to the evidence, being patient, trying to understand the witness, and realising that the language of the law and the jargon can be off-putting, so you have a responsibility to simplify things for lay people," he explained.
MAKING IT SIMPLE
"That is what I try to do - make it simple - and you've seen that during the enquiry. Sometimes counsel may frame a question in a very legalistic way and I will explain to the witness that what counsel is asking is so and so ... and I use words they understand," added Sir David.
"My personal philosophy of law and the legal practice is: Practitioners of law should seek to demystify law; it is something that affects everybody -rich or poor, high or low.
"I see my role as being there to give the man who doesn't have an understanding of law, but has an issue or a case, the opportunity, not to confuse him or talk above his head, but give him the courage to free up himself and talk to us in language that we understand, and we should talk to him in a language that he understands," the legal luminary explained.
Sir David stressed that this was not necessarily a popular view, but it was his view.
"I do not believe that we should use our superior knowledge of a particular discipline to the disadvantage of our fellow citizens," he said.
That said, Sir David expressed the desire to see the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry concluded in a manner that is fair and just to the security forces and the residents of the area who were affected by the May 2010 operations to capture then fugitive Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.
"I am aware of the problems that affected the Office of the Public Defender. There was evidence that he (former Public Defender Earl Witter) was not able to get, especially, ballistics evidence. If we can get it - and we are working hard to do so - then I don't think anybody need worry about the outcome of the report. It will help us to produce a report whose findings will be impeccable."
Sir David said he had indicated to his colleague commissioners that for the recommendatory aspect of the report, he would like the former heads of the security forces to sit with them to enable them to develop a series of recommendations that could be implemented and used across Jamaica so that the events of May 2010 would not be repeated.
Tomorrow, in Part 2, Sir David gets candid about the Caribbean Court of Justice.