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Acting public defender says office now more proactive

BY ANIKA RICHARDS Observer staff reporter richardsai@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, September 02, 2014    

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ACTING Public Defender Matondo Mukulu says professionalism and a commitment to their role are the order of the day among staff at the Office of the Public Defender, as his office takes a proactive approach to not only correcting State entities, but also to highlight where improvements can be made to the country's laws.

Speaking to reporters and editors yesterday at the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper's Beechwood Avenue, St Andrew offices, the acting public defender said it is a duty owed to taxpayers.

"What we are trying to project now in our actions is a more proactive body, not a combative body, but a proactive body, looking at legislative reform. Because in the work that we do, you'll find that a lot of the things that occur, some on account of the fact that some of the laws are not being enforced, or there are gaps in the legislative armoury of the country," said Mukulu.

The acting public defender explained that the role of his office is chiefly investigative.

"We are charged to investigate allegations made against State or statutory bodies that engage constitutional issues, injustice and maladministration," said Mukulu. "We do not have a statutory remit to take matters to court, however, what the lawmakers have given unto us is the power to effectively finance cases that we deem are deserving of our limited resources."

He admitted that within the last six or seven years, his office's function to seek redress via the court has not been performed, but insisted that is changing.

"We have sought to change that at the Office of the Public Defender, but not in a callous way, but in a responsible way," Mukulu continued. "We only lend financial assistance to those cases that we think will have a broader public benefit."

One such case, Mukulu said, is a sex discrimination claim that is being brought against a particular public sector body.

The acting public defender also stressed that his office has beefed up the quality of customer service it offers, because efficiency is key when using the resources it has been given. He offered that when people visit his offices, which will be relocated to 22-24 Duke Street soon, "what you'll find ... is that you are dealing with a team of individuals, not an individual with a supporting cast..."

"This is a professional entity, we have spent time recruiting persons in a robust manner; we have spent time in developing our capacity through teaching each other, because none of us have all the answers," stressed Mukulu.

"...We try to teach each other, certainly on a monthly basis, when we gather by exchanging how we're dealing with the cases," he added.

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