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‘My comments were inappropriate’ - Chuck withdraws comments about Reid and Pinnock arrests

Published:Friday | October 11, 2019 | 12:33 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer
Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry.
Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry.

Stung by widespread criticism of public remarks about the “Nicodemus in the night” arrests of former education minister Ruel Reid and Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) President Fritz Pinnock, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has withdrawn what he has admitted were inappropriate comments.

Reid’s wife, Sharen, his daughter, Sharelle, and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Councillor Kim Brown-Lawrence were also arrested in the pre-dawn raids.

Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry said yesterday that she was concerned when she heard Chuck’s statement, and, further, that his daughter, Carolyn Chuck was counsel for Reid in the matter.

Chuck’s daughter is attached to the law firm Delroy Chuck & Company Attorneys-at-Law, where she has held the position of managing partner since March 2016.

The firm’s website indicates that Chuck proceeded on leave when he was appointed minister of justice that same month.

“The appearance alone can be as damaging as an actual conflict. I think that much of the discussion around these issues is best left to the court’s determination ... ,” said Harrison Henry.

“My view is that [Chuck] may have been better served had he said nothing ... . In truth and in fact, he, like the Office of the Public Defender, we have nothing at all to do with those investigations and they are completely outside of our jurisdiction.”

Harrison Henry was speaking on RJR’s ‘Hotline’ with Emily Shields yesterday morning.

Senator Donna Scott-Mottley, shadow minister for justice, expressed deep disappointment about the comments made by the minister, which “appear to have thrown doubt on the ongoing work of law-enforcement agencies investigating the myriad allegations.”

His comments, she said, could potentially prejudice the investigation and subsequent prosecution of the case.

“Those remarks have the potential of undermining the investigative work of the police and fuelling public scepticism and opposition to the ongoing corruption investigation,” Scott-Mottley said in a release.

“Chuck’s statement also signals to the international community that the Jamaican Government is willing to interfere in and to influence police investigations and compromise the balance of justice for its own political expediency.”

The People’s National Party Youth Organisation (PNPYO) called for the immediate resignation of the justice minister and asked that he make no further comment on the matter.

In a statement sent to the media yesterday, the PNP youth arm said: “It is our firm belief that in this instance, Minister Chuck represents a classic case of conflict of interest. He should recuse himself from the office to avoid any further impropriety or exercise of undue influence that may be seen as benefiting his daughter or his former colleague,” the PNPYO release read.

Chuck retracted his remarks in a voice note on Thursday afternoon.

“Yesterday, in relation to the arrest of Ruel Reid, Fritz Pinnock, and others, [my comment] was inspired by the fact that the media was present at all locations during this early morning raid,” Chuck said in the voice note.

“My daughter was one of the attorneys in the case. She and I lead separate, independent professional lives, however, as justice minister, my comments were inappropriate, and I duly withdraw them in their entirety.”

Civil society advocate Carol Narcisse agreed with the public defender that it was inappropriate for Chuck to have made such a statement in his capacity but said: “If he has withdrawn the statement then that is the appropriate thing.”

Remarks made by Delroy Chuck on Wednesday (IN FULL)

“I have, I have very little information apart from what is in the press. What is interesting is that the DPP seemed to have had no additional material or evidence and what seems so unfortunate, that the arrest took place which looks like Nicodemus in the night. I don’t get the impression that these persons are actually running away. They have made themselves available on all occasion so in fact, if an arrest should have been made, they could easily have been asked to come in so that they could be charged, and in these persons’ cases, if they are to be charged, the impression I suspect that they could easily have been granted their own bail because these are persons or they could be asked to surrender their travel documents as the case may be.

“I think it’s unfortunate that it has become so salacious – in that you put so many persons at these people’s gate and it appears in some instances from the little I’ve heard is further search and further search for more material. So it seems like, umm, the authorities are still not sure what they’re looking for, but then again you ask the question, as the leader of the Opposition has indicated, why are these investigations taking so long? Come to a conclusion. If you don’t have the material, report that there is not enough material to charge, but if you go and you charge, be careful that you charge on very limited evidence with end result that the cases may not go very far, and that would undermine the sort of confidence that you would have in the institution if you proceed to charge on very limited evidence and the cases turn out to be weak or dismissed by the court. I don’t know the evidence but at the end of the day, we must be very professional in what we do, and I hope the assessment of what has been done by these agencies can demonstrate professionalism. That’s all I’d ask.”