Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Tivoli comes first - New public defender to give commission of enquiry top priority

Published:Saturday | January 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Jodi-Ann Gilpin, Gleaner Writer

DECLARING THAT every effort should be made to ensure that truth is uncovered and justice is served, the country's first newly appointed female public defender, Arlene Harrison Henry, has placed the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry as her immediate priority.

Harrison Henry was yesterday sworn in at King's House in St Andrew.

More than 70 people died in an operation by the security forces in 2010 to capture then drug runner Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

The enquiry's sittings for the past year ended in December, and are expected to resume in February.

"I believe it (enquiry) to be the most important commission of enquiry in our independent history. A section of people were traumatised by the loss of loved ones and by what they saw, and damaged properties. As such, it is the public defender's duty to uncover nothing but the truth," she said.

"I don't know what exactly is at the office in terms of material, but looking on, you can see that there is need for some work. Our legal team, for instance, certainly needs bolstering. There needs to be a greater and better balance of force, and there needs to be an equality of arms," the public defender told The Gleaner.

She added, "It is a mammoth undertaking because we have to provide the material to the commission of enquiry so that the country knows the truth and what happened in those days. We are ready for the challenges because we will not be settling for partial truth."

She also said that, following her visit to the office in the afternoon (yesterday), she is hoping to garner as much knowledge to immediately start implementing strategic plans. The public defender is also calling for the matter of human rights to become a serious issue among the youth.

"I am really here to discharge the mandate
contained in the Public Defender Act, which is protecting and enforcing
the rights of all citizens. I am waiting to get in office so that I can
meet with the staff to discuss an overall plan, because we do need a
strategic mechanism," Harrison Henry said.

"I would
want to see human rights being taught throughout the school system, that
we treat it as an important aspect of our culture. We must come to a
place where we recognise that there are differences between us but, at
the same time, we respect each other," she said.

Prime
Minister Portia Simpson Miller, in her address, noted that it was a
historic moment for Jamaica, adding that Harrison Henry was the right
person for the job.

"Mrs Harrison (Henry) is a
long-standing advocate for the protection of human rights. Her track
record recommends her for this job. This is a historic moment for
Jamaica as she is the first female public defender. and not only is the
aspect of gender important, but because she has been objectively
assessed and chosen for the job at this time," she
declared.