Letter: Justice Seymour Panton exposes the judicial violence committed by the Compensation Committee against Tivoli victims

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Dear Sir:

The former president of Court of Appeal, Justice Seymour Panton, has inadvertently done the victims of the 2010 Tivoli Gardens/West Kingston Massacre a favour in providing context in which to expose the egregious acts of judicial violence committed by him and the Compensation Committee against them.

The context is that he wants to see the silencing of lawyers who vigorously defend their clients inside and outside the court room. Seymour Panton would seem to be in a minority where this is concerned because the public welcomed the opportunity to publicly hear both sides of the Vybz Kartel appeal. No harm done.

This is the same attitude adopted by Panton in the compensation matter with disastrous results for the victims. At least 2,000 vicitms were not compensated and the public is none the wiser as to how this happened because he took the position that there would be no “dramatics” and the media would not be allowed to monitor the process.

The reasons for doing this is shocking. According to the Compensation Report, no doubt penned in large part by Panton himself, “The terms of reference required the Compensation Committee to conduct its deliberations in confidence.” In other words, Panton’s employer — the state? the government? Minister Delroy Chuck? wanted no public oversight as to how the victims, who are functionally illiterate for the most part, and who had no lawyers, were to be treated.

It is shocking that Panton, who was appointed by the secretary-general of the United Nations as a judge of the mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, would be comfortable with conducting a compensation hearing in a case where the state is accused of committing crimes against humanity, and itself sets rules that not only exclude public oversight but even the terms of reference are never made public – to this date. This is a matter of “confidence” between Panton, his colleagues and their employer – who paid them at least $53 million for their services.

The following are some of the shocking and egregious judicial violence committed by this Compensation Committee operating in the dark and without accountability.

1. Despite the ministry of justice publicly stating that “The decision of the government to establish the Compensation Committee means that it will not rely on the defence of the expiry of the limitation period as stipulated in Jamaican law”, deadlines were given for claim submission. Many people were denied compensation because their claims were supposedly not submitted on time – when in fact there was no proper public communication with the victims. It should be needless to remind that there is no statute of limitation for reparations in the case of slavery, Coral Gardens victims and even for the Windrush victims.

2. It should be noted that there was passing reference to the fact that “the Committee is aware that the Office of the Public Defender has more than 400 claims that have not been fully investigated due to time and staff constraints.” Is it not a violation of stated government principles to deny compensation to these 400 claimants for the shortcomings of the Public Defender? The CC is silent.

3. The CC on many occasions reduced or disallowed claims because claimants had received compassionate grants from the government in December 2010. The CC on occasion seemed to understand the difference between the two — that one had nothing to do with the other – but yet confused the two when it suited them.

4. It is a standard international practice that a decision to grant reparations or compensation does not in any way deny the victim the right to sue in a court of law. The CC on several occasions refused to proceed with claims because the claimant had already initiated a suit in the courts.

5. The CC on several occasions was unable to recognize that damage to person or property, or even death, could not be decided based on evidential “proof” as if in a court of law, but based on reasonableness. The WKCOE made many such errors and the CC dutifully followed.

6. Consequently the families of many who were killed, or injured were not compensated.

7. The CC failed to apprise itself of the fact that the ministry of labour and social security (MLSS) did a survey immediately after May 2010 and awarded compassionate grants to over 2,500 people for property damage. This survey should have been used to determine more accurately the number of people who were entitled to compensation. The CC was either ignorant or made a grave error in not taking into account the investigation and report of the MLSS.

8. The CC refused to acknowledge the right of claimants to represent themselves in a formal way including the right to have advisors present to assist them. The CC incorrectly created the impression that the Public Defender would be providing legal assistance. This impression was false.

9. The CC refused to consider compensation for the nearly 5,000 males whose constitutional rights were violated by their internment. It claimed that the terms of reference did not give them the remit to consider compensation – and yet no one but themselves has seen the terms of reference.

These are but some of the many reasons why the report of the CC should not be allowed to stand.

The government has a duty to appoint a review panel to oversee the work of the cc in order to ensure that it fulfills its duty to provide meaningful compensation and reparations to the victims of the these crimes against humanity committed by the Jamaican security forces in May 2010. Otherwise the point is made that the prime minister’s apology was a mere formality and lacked sincerity.

Lloyd D’Aguilar
Convenor
Tivoli Committee

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