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Opposition takes Tivoli enquiry protest to court

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, March 05, 2014    

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THE Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) appears to be headed for the courts with its protest against Government's retention of attorney-at-law Velma Hylton on the Commission of Enquiry into the 2010 Tivoli Gardens incursion following a walkout of Parliament yesterday.

Opposition Leader Andrew Holness and fellow Opposition members of Parliament (MPs) left Gordon House immediately after the walkout, without the usual press briefing in the Opposition's conference room. However, the Jamaica Observer has been reliably informed that the Opposition now intends to take the matter through the courts, after refusing to back down on its stand against her inclusion on the commission based on her statements at the 2001 enquiry into a similar incident in Tivoli Gardens, which caused 27 deaths.

Prior to the walkout of the House of Representatives, Holness insisted that the Government should say whether or not it intended to remove Hylton, who had suggested in 2001 that people, including women and children, caught up in the crossfire between the security forces may be shielding gunmen and the police had no option but to shoot.

After some delay, Attorney General Patrick Atkinson responded that the Government did not think that Hylton was a bad choice.

"Let me make it clear, we do not accept that there was any bad choice. We made three excellent choices as commissioners," Atkinson argued.

"Will the Government reconsider the appointment of the attorney in question (Hylton)?" Holness followed up.

This led to a noisy exchange as Atkinson hesitated, suggesting that he would answer the questions as he pleased. But, as the attorney general hesitated, the shouts grew louder and the noise more uncontrollable. In the midst of the mayhem, the Opposition MPs filed out of the chamber.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who was in the House when Atkinson opened his statement on the appointment of the three commissioners for the enquiry, quietly slipped out of the noisy environment and into her waiting vehicle and was off to Jamaica House. She made no contribution to the debate, which followed Atkinson's statement.

The statement was supposed to be the Government's report to Parliament on its decision on naming the three commissioners -- Barbadian Sir David Simmonds, as chairman; retired Court of Appeal judge Hazel Harrison; and Hylton, a former deputy director of public prosecutions in Jamaica, who was the counsel for the 2001 enquiry into the killing of 25 civilians in Tivoli Gardens by the security. However, Opposition MPs felt that it was more of a "political" statement, supporting the controversial appointment of Hylton.

Atkinson said that the "allegations" made against her by the Opposition did not come close to bias and cannot be said to be impropriety.

"If there was the slightest hint of anything that would render Ms Hylton inappropriate for this commission of enquiry, she would not have been recommended by the governor general," he said.

Holness, however, insisted that one of the major issues of the enquiry would be whether the security forces have the right to fire on unarmed civilians they perceive to be "shielding gunmen".

"I just want it to be clear that the standard of human rights in this country is not that unarmed citizens should be shot at. I just want that to be established... It was not established by the learned attorney (Hylton)," he said.

The House adjourned soon after the walkout as it was unable to complete its business.

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