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For God's sake, Ms Hylton, step aside

The Point Is...

HG HELPS

Sunday, March 09, 2014    

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JAMAICA has had its share of challenges with the dispensation of justice.

And in all of the cries about how justice ought to be executed, comes a familiar saying that justice must not only be done, but must appear to be done.

The latest brouhaha regarding the composition of the Commission of Enquiry that will preside over the Tivoli Gardens incidents of 2010 is again threatening to further divide the warring political tribes of Gordon House and with it, throw the whole business of trust and confidence into more disrepute.

There seems to be no disagreement by the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party over the selection of the commission's chairman, Sir David Simmonds, a Barbadian legal mind whose reputation for fairness is as sparkling as the love that his countrymen have for flying fish and coucou, or barbecued pig's tail.

Nor does there seem to be any fuss -- quarrel, if you may -- over retired Court of Appeal Judge Hazel Harrison.

But Ms Velma Hylton, a former deputy director of public prosecutions in Jamaica, faces a JLP bright light that obviously will not stop glowing anytime soon.

And there seems to be reasonable justification on the part of the Opposition for Ms Hylton to bite her lip, sip a cool drink and gracefully decline the invitation by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen for her to be one of those hearing evidence into the delicate issues that led to the capture of then fugitive Christopher 'Dudus' Coke and the death of 76 people, some say 77 and others say up to twice that number, in bloody clashes between the security forces and gunmen said to be loyal to Coke.

For Ms Hylton's comments at the 2001 West Kingston Commission of Enquiry, which I covered extensively for the local and international media, which started in September that year, would always be contentious, considering who said them, the context in which they were said, and the mood that prevailed in the country at

the time.

"If the women and children deliberately put themselves in-between the law and order forces and deliberately go to and fro to enable those gunmen behind them to fire at civilians, I for one do not understand why in all the circumstances they cannot return the fire. I am afraid I do not and I cannot understand that," said Hylton, who served as counsel to the

West Kingston Commission

of Enquiry.

My advice to Ms Hylton, the noted counsel, is to simply pen a letter to Sir Patrick within the next five days, telling him thanks but no thanks.

I am by no means questioning the integrity of Ms Hylton, who has distinguished herself in her several decades of practising law, but I merely want to see some amount of transparency with limited fuss.

The ball is obviously in Ms Hylton's court, for the ruling People's National Party seems as solid as a rock in not budging from asking the able lady to walk away from the scene and let there be peace on the plains of politics.

The JLP, which, to the best of my recollection, was not too keen on the holding of an inquiry, blundered too, through its leader, Mr Andrew Holness, by failing to respond, in whatever manner, to the prime minister's letter outlining the members of the commission.

As information emerged, Mr Holness was given three days to examine and respond to the prime minister's letter. That amount of time could have been accommodated, even by way of a telephone call or e-mail to the political head of the country, to ask for additional time to discuss the matter with the party's functionaries at various levels.

We take far too long to deal with matters that affect us in this country. Procrastination always costs the nation. As Richard Azan, the minister of state in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, said recently, things that can take a day to be done end up taking more than a month.

We cannot continue like that.

It's time to move on, though. The JLP, regardless of its inability to address the matter earlier, has a valid point in not wanting to have Ms Hylton as a commissioner.

We need, as a country, to learn from the past. The last major enquiry that contributed to the JLP being toppled from office in 2011 -- the Dudus/Manatt, Phelps and Phillips probe -- was led by Mr Emil George, who clearly did not inspire the confidence that we would all have hoped for, judging from the deliberations and the eventual outcome of the enquiry.

Even before that, we can look at the 2001 enquiry, presided over by Grenadian-Canadian Julius Isaac, who snored more often at sittings (Ms Hylton can attest to that) than loggers cut wood in Newfoundland on a Tuesday. At least I had the chance to compare his volume of snoring with a recorded version of mine after a hard night on the town.

It is usually the norm for many of the commissioners named to such bodies to be retired and have some legal background. But why can we not 'rope in' practising judges to be a part of the process? I am fully aware that the justice system has a horrendous backlog of cases that demand the attention of our respected judges. But this matter is of such importance that we need to have at least a taste of the present judicial system represented on such set-ups.

Our judiciary, barring one or two concerns regarding conduct, has been largely clean and healthy in terms of how justice is dispensed. We have some of the finest minds in the region, whose integrity cannot be questioned. Would it be too much to ask Mr Justice Patrick Brooks or Mr Justice Mahadev Dukharan to sit on the commission?

If that cannot be a reality, what about retired Court of Appeal judge Mr Justice Clarence 'Billy' Walker, or retired Chief Justice

Lensley Wolfe.

It's really no big thing for a member of the commission to be changed, if one of the major organisations involved seeks to have that done.

The tribal nature of our politics has stagnated the growth of this country. It seems as if, in simple situations like this, the parties cannot knock heads and sort it out in a jiffy.

Co-operation is so sadly lacking, and if there is so much haggling over this matter, which rightfully should be a non-issue, I shudder to think what will happen when the matter of deciding Jamaica's final appellate court reaches the benches of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

While the PNP has a clear majority in the House to push for the enactment of legislation to have the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final stop on the trail of justice, the matter is not as simple, in respect of the Senate, from which the PNP needs the JLP's support in finalising it.

Failure to reach common ground on this one could result in the country having to find in excess of $300 million to hold a referendum ... money which could have been used in more productive ways, among them to invest in a needed inner-city economic development project that will go a fair way in empowering the thousands of unemployed youth, many of whom often turn to crime as a way of keeping afloat on choppy seas of survival.

— HG Helps is Editor-at-Large at the Jamaica Observer.

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