Sun | May 20, 2018

Too early to push Witter out - Peart

Published:Thursday | January 17, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

Despite being left "shocked and disappointed" on Tuesday by the public defender's failure to submit his long-awaited report on the 2010 Tivoli Gardens incursion, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Michael Peart, believes calls for Earl Witter to step down from his post are premature.

Peart, who had assured the House that the report would have been presented at this week's sitting, was hoping to meet with Witter yesterday to find out why it has not yet materialised, but was forced to reschedule the meeting for today as the public defender was said to be feeling ill.

"I was shocked and disappointed when I realised yesterday (Tuesday) that he (Witter) wasn't coming, because I was led to believe up until Monday that it would have been ready," Peart told The Gleaner. "He explained to me that there was some difficulty within his organisation, but we did not go into details. So I hope he is well enough tomorrow so we can get into some details, because the matter is pressing."

The report was expected to provide insight into the circumstances leading to the deaths of 73 civilians and one soldier in May 2010 when security forces entered Tivoli Gardens in search of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

Calls have been coming for Witter to demit office with the latest from Dr Carolyn Gomes, executive director of human-rights lobby Jamaicans for Justice, and Horace Levy, a member of the Peace Management Initiative, who both took part in a Gleaner Editors' Forum held yesterday at the newspaper's North Street, central Kingston, head office.

"I am certainly at the point where he (Witter) either provides a very satisfactory explanation or he leaves because it is not acceptable," Gomes declared.


Levy was more adamant that Witter should step down immedi-ately, as he believes he is not fully in charge of the office.

"There are problems inside his office; I happen to know that. He (Witter) is unable to retain critical staff," Levy said. "He is a nice man. I like him and I respect him, but there are elements of eccentricity which are obviously interfering. I think he will be the first one to acknowledge probably that it is time he passes the baton to somebody else."

Yvonne McCalla-Sobers, the convenor of Families Against State Terrorism and Generation 2000 (G2K), the young professional arm of the Jamaica Labour Party, had earlier in the day also stated that the time had come for the public defender to go.

"There is no evidence to back those calls," Peart, however, said yesterday afternoon. "I have not been provided with any evidence; we are facing this dilemma now, yes, but prior to that I never had any reports of any failure on his part to deliver. There might have been (failures), but nobody made any formal report to me."

Under the Public Defender Act, the public defender shall hold office until he attains the age of 70 years. He, however, may be removed from office for a variety of reasons, including his inability to discharge the functions of his office (whether arising from infirmity of body or mind or any other cause) or for misbehaviour.

The act states that if each House of Parliament, by resolution, decides that the question of removing the public defender from office ought to be considered, then the governor general, acting after consultation with the prime minister and leader of the opposition, must appoint a tribunal to consider the matter.

The 68-year-old Witter assumed office in September 2006.