Hearings Begin at Office of Emergency Powers Review Tribunal


The Emergency Powers Review Tribunal began its hearings yesterday (June 28), at its official location at 2D Camp Road, in Kingston.
The Tribunal was appointed by the Government to review cases of detention and restriction of citizens by the security forces under the current state of emergency in the parishes of Kingston, St. Andrew and St. Catherine.
Chairman of the Tribunal, Pamela Benka-Coker, Q.C., who was appointed by the Chief Justice, tells JIS News that the Tribunal is determined to give detainees an opportunity to object to detention, and to be heard as expeditiously as possible.
She notes that the hearings are inquisitorial, not judicial, as having heard both sides in relation to an objection to a detention, the Tribunal will not make final decisions. “We will review the evidence that we have heard and make the appropriate recommendations to the Minister who can accept our recommendation, go against, or in fact vary the recommendation,” she explains.
Mrs. Benka-Coker tells JIS News that each side will be permitted to question the other party, and give as many details as are reasonable and pertinent, to enable the Tribunal to properly determine the appropriate recommendation to make.
Meanwhile, she informs that the frequency of hearings depends on how many objections the Tribunal has before it. “These objections relate to the liberty of the subject, which is basically sacrosanct, except in certain circumstances, such as a state of emergency,” she notes.
The Chairman says that although the body is of the view that the proceedings should be in-camera, due to their sensitivity, relatives and other persons who wish to be heard, will be allowed. “We will not be rigid at all in enforcing any need for in-camera proceedings, particularly in relation to persons like mothers and fathers,” she says.
She adds that persons who can give information as to the bases for the detention order or any matter relating to the objection to the detention order, will be allowed to give evidence, as the rigid rules of court proceedings do not apply.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Benka-Coker says the Tribunal has been in touch with the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Counsel, who has contacted a number of attorneys-at-law, who have expressed a willingness to assist detainees in preparing their objections.
These lawyers will also appear for detainees before the Tribunal. “So, we have sought to set up everything, in the fairest possible way,” she says.
Reports will be prepared and submitted to the Minister expeditiously. She notes that these must be done in writing, and that in addition to sittings, time has also been allotted to deal with the administrative matters, resulting from the sittings. “So, we have to review what we have heard and certainly give reasons for the recommendations that we are making, in every particular case,” she explains.
The Chairman points out that having been appointed on May 28, the same week of the declaration of the State of Emergency, the issue was that there had been no ready infrastructure (location and human resource) to commence hearings. However, she says the Tribunal immediately liaised with the Ministry of Justice, which had been extremely co-operative, and began putting together the necessities.
“We determined the staff and the equipment that we would need to put everything in place. The members of the Tribunal met and settled on the procedure that we would follow,” she says. It is within the purview of the Tribunal to settle its own procedures under the Emergency Powers Regulations.
She says the Tribunal had examined legislation from other jurisdictions that could assist in its operations, “and drew on our own legal knowledge to see what would be appropriate in settling the procedures, and we recognised the need for the principle of natural justice to be paramount in relation to the actual sitting of the Tribunal.”
Mrs. Benka-Coker says the Tribunal also decided that the Minister of National Security would be entitled to be heard through his representative, and to be represented by his legal counsel, which would normally be from the Attorney General’s Department.
“We also determined that it was necessary that the detainee and his legal counsel be afforded the opportunity to be heard as well, and we determined how we would conduct the proceedings at the Tribunal itself,” she informs.
A determination was also made on the documents that would be used by the Tribunal, as well as how detainees would be notified of the date of their hearings.
Other members of the Tribunal are: Mr. Justice Henderson Downer, retired Judge of the Court of Appeal, and Nancy Anderson, Attorney-at-law. A stenographer is also on staff to take verbatim notes of the hearings.
Objections (of detention) may be submitted to the Tribunal by hand at 2D Camp Road, Kingston; mailed to the same address, or sent by e-mail to: emergencypowersreviewtribunal@gmail.com.

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