Public defender to open office in MoBay
Jamaica's first female public defender, Arlene Harrison Henry, is slated to open an office in Montego Bay, St James, later this year.
In her first public speaking engagement since taking up office in January, Harrison Henry made the announcement during a Jamaica Association of Administrative Professionals (JAAP) luncheon held last week at the Seawind Beach Club in the Second City.
The new public defender's office will be opened by September 2015, at the current Independent Commission of Investigations location in Montego Bay.
"It is not satisfactory that we operate only out of Kingston. Our service must be available to all citizens," she stated.
Established by Parliament for the purpose of "protecting and enforcing the rights of citizens", Harrison Henry, was quick to point out that her office was not a department or an agent of government, and was not subject to the directive of government or any minister or ministry.
According to Harrison Henry, she will share expenses such as rent with INDECOM, spending one day per week in Montego Bay. The plan is to establish a base in at least two other parishes.
"Our duty is to give a voice to citizens to complain, as well as investigate and resolve individual complaints," she told the gathering, pointing out that her office must be readily accessible to all of Jamaica, particularly, that section of the community that is most in need.
After only four months in office, with clear intentions of making a change in how her office is viewed, the public defender said she is also in the process of securing a toll-free line.
"There is no fee charged at our offices and there is no deduction made from settlements obtained for our clients," she told the administrative professionals, who had in their midst the 2015 All-Island Administrative Professional of the Year, Inderia Adjudah, and the Boss of the Year for St James, Dr Ken Garfield Douglas.
Pointing out that she recognises that the country's courts were the final arbiters, Harrison Henry said in some instances, the non-judicial remedy which her office can provide in appropriate cases was cheaper and quicker than going to court.
Several of the complaints dealt with by the public defender range from alleged extra-judicial killings, other alleged police excesses, allegations relating to maladministration in respect of pensions and alleged wrongful dismissals.
"Not surprisingly, there is a wide range of environmental complaints touching St Thomas, Kingston and St Andrew, St Elizabeth and St Catherine," she revealed, adding that apart from the complaints focused around police misconduct, that the office had been getting over the years, there were other rights in need of protection.