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Sir David proposes special tribunal to examine compensation for Tivoli residents

Published:Thursday | November 26, 2015 | 11:00 AMGary Spaulding

Chairman of the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry Sir David Simmons has floated the proposal for the establishment of a special tribunal to examine issues of compensation for residents of Tivoli Gardens and its environs, who suffered losses in the May 2010 police-military incursion.

There were nods of agreement yesterday from the legal team representing the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), including Linton Walters and Peter Champagnie, while former Public Defender Earl Witter signified that it was a proposal worthy of further consideration.

It was Witter, from whom Sir David had sought a view on the wisdom of a special tribunal as he was cross-examined by Champagnie.

Witter told the commission that the Public Defender's Act would not preclude such a body.

"I think the public defender would welcome any assistance she can get," he said.

He said that normally, the Office of the Public Defender would make an assessment and submit a claim to the attorney general's office, after which an agreement would be sought.

"But the sheer numbers [of aggrieved persons] make it difficult in this case," he asserted. "It is a suggestion most worthy of serious consideration," declared Witter.

The lawyer representing the commission said that the issue of the statute of limitations would have to be addressed.

Sir David suggested that this could be achieved by a special piece of legislation.

Earlier, Champagnie challenged Witter that in carrying out his mandate on behalf of aggrieved residents, alacrity was not the order of the day in how he executed his functions.

This was strongly rejected by the former public defender.

It was then that Sir David referred to instructions from then Prime Minister Bruce Golding to the social security ministry to investigate the extent of loss and damage incurred during the incursion.

$92 MILLION DISBURSED

Sir David noted that a total of just over $92 million were disbursed to more than 2,000 residents at the time.

Witter admitted that he was not aware of the payments until afterwards.

"I became aware of that after the disbursements," he said.

He, however, said he was not critical of the Government's intervention without him because it constituted a discharge of the State's obligation.

Witter said that following the disbursements, his office sought to determine the true value of the claims, employing the accepted judicial formula and came up with $110.8 million.

"It was made clear that this did not include costs incurred for extrajudicial killings, detention, battery and assault."

He said looting and malicious destruction of property was taken into account.

At this point, Sir David suggested that there needs to be a disaggregation of what was paid out and was assessed by the public defender.

"Indeed, and that would prevent double payments," said Witter.

"I would welcome the oppor-tunity ... as a tribunal aimed at making these determinations is worthy of serious consideration."