Current Affairs

Current Affairs



West Kgn report for Parliament
Commission's findings into gun battle to be made public tomorrow; Cabinet to review document today
By Observer Staff Reporter
Monday, July 01, 2002



ISAAC...criticised by Opposition for handling of inquiry

THE report by the commission of inquiry that probed last July's West Kingston violence is to be released tomorrow, but ministers will have an opportunity to review the document at today's weekly meeting of the Cabinet, Prime Minister P J Patterson has announced.

The three-member committee, headed by the former chief justice of Canada's federal supreme court, Grenada-born Julius Isaac, last week submitted the report to the governor-general, Sir Howard Cooke. Copies have been forwarded to national security minister, Peter Phillips and justice minister, A J Nicholson.

"It will be considered by Cabinet on Monday and tabled in Parliament on Tuesday," Patterson said Saturday night at a dinner in Montego Bay of the National Association of Jamaican and Supportive Organisations (NAJASO).

NAJASO embraces Jamaica-related organisations in the United States and is now completing its 25th annual conference in Jamaica.

Senior officials of the Jamaica Labour Party were unavailable for comment last night but the party had denounced the inquiry and have consistently said they did not expect it to be fair to them.

The report will be released five days shy of the first anniversary of the Saturday afternoon outbreak of three days of violence in West Kingston that left 27 people dead, including a policeman and a soldier.

Two more policemen were killed during another three days of unrest, mainly by Opposition supporters who mounted roadblocks and shut down commerce.

The JLP had claimed that the West Kingston violence, in the constituency of its leader, Edward Seaga, was orchestrated by the police and the ruling People's National Party (PNP) in a bid to demonise Seaga by promoting for him an image of violence.

It demanded a commission of inquiry into the incident, but balked at Issac as well as theologian and agricultural expert, Dr Garnett Brown when the commissioners were appointed. It, however, did not openly criticise the commission's third member, retired University of the West Indies lecturer and criminologist, Dr Hyacinthe Ellis.

But throughout the sittings, lawyers representing JLP-aligned groups consistently accused the commission, particularly Justice Isaac, of bias. They eventually walked out over a ruling that a lawyer for Seaga and a JLP councillor, Desmond McKenzie, could only crossexamine witnesses if they gave evidence about their clients. The Jamaican Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

Isaac's ruling was on the basis that the JLP had not sought any status before the commission and that he had recommended that Seaga has representation when a witness called the Opposition leader's name during evidence.

In any event, Isaac argued, other lawyers, including those representing JLP-affiliated groups, were not prevented from cross-examining, so the impact of his ruling was to prevent a deliberate drawing-out of the proceedings with lawyers going over the same ground.

When Seaga was subpoenaed to testify before the inquiry, he denounced its style, declared that his right to a fair hearing was being denied and then walked out. Other JLP officials followed suit.

An opinion poll for the Observer at the time indicated that the majority of Jamaicans did not support that position.

While the West Kingston violence was the central theme of the inquiry, the commissioners were also asked to probe the broader issue of violence in Kingston inner-city communities as well as the impact of the drug trade on crime in the country.