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Jamaica's first female DPP a woman of courage under fire Part one

Paula Llewellyn

Wednesday, March 19, 2014    

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DON'T, for one minute, be fooled by the beguiling, gap-toothed and ever present smile of Paula Llewellyn. Jamaica's first woman Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has emerged confident, courageous and all-conquering from the legal jungle which is the nation's justice system.

She has eaten for breakfast the scalps of some of Jamaica's most accomplished lawyers, among them K D 'Star Boy' Knight, Frank Phipps, Ian Ramsay, Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, Churchill Neita and Tom Tavares-Finson. She has figured in cases ranging from Jim Brown to Zeeks, Joel Andem to Mary Lynch, Trafigura to Dudus.

In the heat of legal battle she has faced almost all of Jamaica's Queen's Counsels, including P J Patterson, the former prime minister; Winston Spaulding; Lord Anthony Gifford; Headley Cunningham; Velma Hylton; Patrick Atkinson; Dr Lloyd Barnett; and Delroy Chuck.

Possessed of a voracious prosecutorial appetite, Llewellyn's passion for law and order has not been tempered by 30 years, this March, of practice in the island's courts, from the lowest to the highest. She is in a class of her own in the justice system. In the exercise of her vast powers, she can act first and tell her boss — the justice minister — later.

Does anyone still now harbour even remotest doubt that history prepares its special sons and daughters for the awesome task they must undertake in time on behalf of fellow humanity? Otherwise it is too much of a coincidence that Llewellyn, fresh out of law school, would come face to face with gunmen and learn valuable lessons about professional discipline for the time when she faced such hapless creatures from the opposite side of the law in court.

The innocence of life in Pembroke Hall

Llewellyn is part of the multitude of witnesses to a Jamaica in which the village raised the child and set them on a path to productive adulthood. Her late mother, Mavis Llewellyn, was remembered as a former head of the Hyacinth Lightbourne Visiting Nursing Service, and her father, realtor Clinton Llewellyn, now 90, is, according to a proud daughter, "the original village lawyer who could match any Queen's Counsel with his knowledge of the law". She has three siblings.

Her earliest recollections are of life in Pembroke Hall, St Andrew, then an upstanding middle-class community "with a strong sense of values". Her father loved to take the family to Rockfort Mineral Bath, and her mother insisted on going to church at St Mary the Virgin Anglican Church.

A glutton for books

"Respect for your elders was important. So too was courtesy, a good work ethic, and discipline. My parents insisted on that," Llewellyn recalls. "Everybody looked out for everybody else. As children, we were scarcely allowed to stand at our gate, except for when the Jonkunno was passing by at Christmas. We usually had to be inside reading a book."

From that insistence on reading, she became a glutton for books, learning to read well from age six. When she eventually began to think of a career, she wanted to be a librarian, believing that that was the only way she could get an endless supply of books.

"I have always had a love for words, the feel of the words, the texture, the taste," she says. "I love to talk, am a lover of language, literature, history. I love to express myself."

As a young child Llewellyn would not have made the connection to a future career in law. While she prepared for Common Entrance Examination at St George's Girl's Primary School at Duke Street, she attended extra lessons with the legendary George Abrahams, whose son is Dr Michael Abrahams, the popular gynaecologist who moonlights as a successful comic.

"The prep school children getting extra lessons from Mr Abrahams used to say 'poor Michael' because he had to be at class all the time," she reminisces with a flash of the telltale smile.

From St George's Primary she went to St Hugh's High, recalling that it was there that she shed her girlhood shyness, somewhere around second or third form, and discovered she was "a frustrated actress".

The St Hugh's years were pleasant, filled with camaraderie, and she made great friends among the girls, some of them becoming lifelong pals and lyming partners, including women like Leone Hines, Andrea Mason, Yvonne-Ridgard Harris, Maria Martin, Dianne Lewis-Tucker, Antoinette Griffiths, Ann Robinson-Bridgewater, and Hope Douglas, among others. Then there were also the friends from 'brother school' Kingston College, including Dalkeith Bennett, Aubrey Martin and Delano Franklin.

Date with destiny...and Douglas Leys

From as early as fourth form, Llewellyn felt the draw to law, because of the love for acting, she thinks. She sailed into tertiary studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, in 1979 for first year, with people like Linton Walters, Donovan Forte, Garth McBean, Sharon Henry, Judy Brown, Dr Carol Pickersgill, Paul Dennis, Norma Davis, Dr Keste Miller, and Yvonne-Ridgard Harris from St Hugh's.

Among the memorable students also was one Douglas Leys. In time he would become solicitor-general of Jamaica at one of the most challenging periods in the country's legal history. It would be a date with destiny. While they beat the books at Mona, nothing in those simple days of fun and dreams could foretell that, years hence, Llewellyn and Leys would find themselves on opposite sides in the tumultuous extradition case involving Tivoli Gardens strongman Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.

For the time being, they worked hard at passing exams, and then it was onto second and third year at the Faculty of Law in Barbados. There, too, it was hard studying and hard fun for the tight-knit bunch of Jamaican students who included Albert Edwards, who was a year ahead of them and is now the chief parliamentary counsel.

"We certainly knew how to party hearty," she pleads guilty, recounting that she was chairperson of the Jamaica Night fete when a sheep was presented instead of a goat for the iconic rice and peas and curry goat meal.

"Everyone insisted that it had to be goat. So we scrambled around and eventually found a goat. The next problem was who was going to kill the goat. Nobody wanted to do it," Llewellyn recalls, at the same time remembering her childhood disgust at the killing of chickens raised by her parents. Jeremy Palmer, the future Jamaica Labour Party politico, volunteered and saved Jamaica Night.

Back to Mona from Barbados, the small group of about 30 law students -- compared with the 150 or so today — excelled and all became prosecutors after leaving in 1984. Llewellyn had good prospects in the eastern Caribbean island of Antigua & Barbuda.

"But I had made a decision to return to Jamaica. My mom had inculcated in us the notion of service of country over self. So I started the search for a job here," she relates.

By the time Llewellyn had started her search, most of the choice jobs at the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions had been snapped up. She found a position as clerk of courts in Montego Bay, and soon found that it wasn't so bad after all. In fact, it was a great start to her career.

On the Trans-Jamaica plane ride down to the scenic north coast resort city, she was reading a book on advocacy. Ian Ramsay, the legendary lawyer's lawyer, was in the seat behind her. He noticed what she was reading and thought this must be a young lawyer to be so engrossed in that book.

He got up, sat beside her, and struck up a conversation. He was right. Not only was she a young lawyer, but a very bright one at that, and she liked to talk.

"Out of that conversation we developed a very honest respect and regard for each other," Llewellyn recalls now. Of course, we would clash several times later in the Resident Magistrate's Courts and in the Appeal Court. But I learnt a lot from him," she says of the late Ramsay.

Three masked men came calling

While she was searching for an apartment in MoBay, Llewellyn stayed with a friend from school days at the upscale Westgate Hills complex. On a quiet evening, she was at the apartment with about four adults and children when three masked gunmen pounced, ordering: "Nobody move!"

After the excellent start she had when she met the maestro on the plane, this was the last thing that she was expecting. The intruders went through the apartment scraping up items of jewellery and demanding money.

"It was very scary. You had no idea what they were going to do with us," Llewellyn relives the moment.

Happily, the felons did not do any personal harm to any of the occupants and left after feeling satisfied with their loot. Police later told her that two of the three, based on the description, had been killed in a shoot-out.

The robbery would not be the only one for Llewellyn. Now a Crown counsel some years later, she was home alone one night with her mom, both in pyjamas on Red Hills Road, when a man came into the house from the balcony.

"I saw him going through my handbag. I screamed, and if you hear me you know that I have the loudest scream. My mother made as if she was going to tackle the man. I screamed even more loudly and the man seemed to panic and ran. At the same time, my mother just quietly said in a very prim and proper voice: 'Murder! Thief!' Llewellyn laughs heartily on recalling the incident.

"Later, I said 'mom, that's not how you say it'. She calmly replied: 'Oh Paula, the Lord has protected us'."

Both incidents held valuable lessons for Llewellyn. "I became very clear about not allowing such unfortunate things to cloud my discretion in the exercise of my professional practice in law," Llewellyn says.

In the case of the Red Hills Road burglar, police who were quick on the scene caught him as he was making his getaway. They asked both women to identify the man.

"Even my mother was astounded when I said I could not be sure. It was night, and in our state of mind I couldn't be sure if that was the man. Even when faced with that I was thinking of the case of The Queen vs Turnbull, in which identification was crucial. I have always looked on that as one of the underpinnings of being a prosecutor who has to be professional.

"Even if you find yourself in the jaws of the lion, you must be ready the next day to turn and give that lion justice, even if he wanted to eat you the day before. That is very important for me as someone who wields such great power. I must never allow an excess of ego to cloud my senses," says Llewellyn.

As scary as the MoBay robbery was, it did not scare her from taking up the job as clerk of the courts there. But, in its own way, it would help to prepare her for what was yet to come for Paula Vanessa Llewellyn.

FRIDAY: Going through the fire to become Jamaica's first woman DPP

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