Kern Spencer case no turnoff for Holness

I still believe in Jamaica’s justice system, opposition leader says

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large

Sunday, May 04, 2014    

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THE outcome of the Kern Spencer Cuban light bulb case has in no way resulted in an erosion of confidence in Jamaica's justice system for Opposition Leader Andrew Holness.

"I have great respect for our judicial system. There are flaws and shortcomings, but by and large we should take pride, given the level of resources that we dedicate to it, that it does work, although in certain areas there is vast room for improvement," Holness told senior journalists during the Jamaica Observer Press Club last Thursday.

In March this year, Senior Resident Magistrate Judith Pusey upheld a no-case submission filed by Spencer's attorney, KD Knight, culminating a six-year court procedure into the role he played in the distribution of energy-saving light bulbs donated to Jamaica by the Cuban Government.

At the time he was charged, Spencer was state minister in the Ministry of Enegry and Mining, as well as the member of parliament for St Elizabeth North East.

"This case has not shaken my confidence in the system," Holness insisted Thursday.

"What it says to me is that greater resources need to be spent on, for example, the Office of the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions), in terms of staffing, and the infrastructure available to her. Much more needs to be spent on our court system, and the role of the press in terms of bringing the information to the public domain needs to

be improved.

Pusey came under fire from sections of the public for freeing Spencer and his co-accused Colleen Wright, with many voices arguing that the magistrate ought to have given reasons for her decision in light of the delicate and sensitive nature of the legal matter.

Arguments even stretched onto personal territory, with some suggesting that Pusey's strained relationship with DPP Paula Llewellyn could have contributed to the magistrate choosing the course of action that she took.

"I am not defending the magistrate, and it is quite obvious that I have no degrees in law, but from what was explained to me, it is a technical decision based on points in law," Holness said of Pusey's decision to hand back Spencer's passport to freedom.

"Public sentiment on the matter, if it were properly cultivated and stimulated by explanations could possibly, in future, have an impact," the former prime minister continued.

"I heard the chief justice come out and made certain statements, which is to suggest that there is concern at that level about the outcome. More stimulation of public sentiment can have an impact on the outcome," he maintained, while admitting that he was aware of the widely held view that it is difficult to convict politicians.

Only one high-profile politician in the last 25 years has been convicted and sent to prison.

Former minister of labour and social security in the Jamaica Labour Party Administration of the 1980s, JAG Smith, was found guilty of defrauding the United States and Canadian Farm Work Programme, along with his permanent secretary, Probyn Aitken, and sent to prison for three years.

Aitken was imprisoned for nine months, primarily because he pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to defraud and turned the prosecution's key witness against Smith.

Both were fingered in a probe, after then minister of labour, welfare and sport Portia Simpson cited irregularities in the farm work programme.

Simpson, now with the acquired name Miller, who has emerged as prime minister, was hailed as a champion of workers' rights by exposing corruption against the proletariat at the time. However, there were sotto voce political sounds which chastised her for not covering up for fellow parliamentarian Smith, a chartered accountant who was elected MP for North Clarendon in 1976 when he defeated the PNP's Robert Saunds by 14 votes, and retained the seat until he was sent into effective retirement by Horace Dalley, now a minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and Planning.

On July 27, 1989, Simpson announced in Parliament that Smith and Aitken were being investigated by the police, following the completion of an audit by the Auditor General's Department which showed up multiple irregularities.

Smith, then an Opposition senator, was charged on February 13, 1990 with receiving US$70,000 that was deemed by the DPP to be "unlawfully obtained" from farm workers' savings. He was also charged with conspiracy to defraud.

By July of the same year, Resident Magistrate Donald McIntosh found him guilty and sentenced him to five years in prison at hard labour. That sentence was later reduced to three years by the Court of Appeal, led by its president, Justice Ira Rowe.

Two years later, on July 18, following unsuccessful appeals to overturn his conviction by the Court of Appeal and Jamaica's final appellate court, the United Kingdom Privy Council, Smith was released from prison and led a low-profile life until his death on December 23, 2008.

Aitken, an attorney-at-law was struck off the role of practising attorneys by the Disciplinary Committee of the General Legal Council on June 4, 1991.

He died of prostate cancer on April 4, 2009 where his daughter resided, although he had lived at Mount Vernon, New York.





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