|Public Defender Arlene Harrison-Henry|
Congratulations Arlene Harrison-Henry
How moving it was that Arlene Harrison-Henry, my early childhood classmate at St. Mary’s Academy in Savanna-la-mar, was sworn in as Jamaica’s Public Defender last Friday. We met again on campus at UWI when Arlene supported the university’s workers’ demonstrations. Her passion for justice and human rights has been evident throughout her entire career. No doubt, Jamaica will be well served by this brilliant patriot. - Jean Lowrie-Chin
Report from the Jamaica ObserverFORMER head of the Jamaican Bar Association (JBA), Arlene Harrison Henry, has been chosen as the new public defender.
Informed sources confirmed yesterday that both contenders for the post -- Harrison Henry and the current Acting Public Defender Matondo Mukulu -- have met with Governor General Sir Patrick Allen since December 11, and have been informed that the choice of the Public Service Commission (PSC) is Harrison Henry.
The local media had been reporting over the last six weeks, after the PSC took over the process of choosing the public defender, that Harrison Henry was the Government's choice and the strong favourite for the job.
In the past, the prime minister advised the governor general on the choice for the post, after consulting with the leader of the opposition. However, on this occasion, it was decided that the PSC should make the choice.
Harrison Henry's name was featured on both occasions in the past when public defenders were chosen. However, after the post was created in 2001, Howard Hamilton became the first public defender, succeeded by Earl Witter in 2006. Witter retired in April, and Mukulu was named acting public defender.
Public reaction to Mukulu's brief stint in office, however, had suggested that he would have been retained in the post as his proactive style has been welcomed as a "refreshing change" compared to the less-animated approach of his predecessors. However, the Jamaica Observer has learnt that the PSC felt that he was "too inexperienced" for the job.
But, in six months acting in the office, Mukulu seemed to have made a great impression on the public, tackling a number of issues, including discrimination against disabled persons, the confiscation and donation to charities of street vendors' goods, the manner in which people considered unfit to plea are detained at the island's two major prisons, and claims of human rights breaches from people affected by fires at the Riverton City dump in Kingston.
He also offered 40 statements to the Tivoli Enquiry to support its December start, held outreach meetings in a number of rural towns, and jointly sponsored a radio programme with the United Nations Development Programme to explain constitutional rights to the public.
However, this was not enough to convince the PSC, which met twice with both candidates before making their choice known to the governor general.
The Observer was told that, although the PSC had made its choice weeks ago, a decision was taken to delay the announcement until now as there was concern that it would trigger public opposition.
Harrison Henry is the current chair of the Independent Jamaican Council for Human Rights.
The Public Service Commission members, with effect from March 1, 2014, as listed by the Services Commission on its website are: Justice Lensley Wolfe, chairman; Anthony Irons; Shirley Tyndall; Elise Wright-Goffe; Rev Dr Karl Johnson; and Audrey Menzie Hastings. However, the Observer confirmed last night that Irons had resigned from the commission effective May this year.