The enquiry took a break today from live TV coverage; proceedings were behind closed doors–in camera, in legal speak, or off-camera, to ordinary people.
From watching a few hours of transmissions I now know the following.
The Jamaican military have a strong interest in cats. A male witness alleged that soldiers toured with guns yelling “Whe di pussy deh?” (where are the cats?). He never expanded on why the armed men had this keen interest. The commission room erupted in laughter, perhaps they thought it funny that amidst all the mayhem, the burly soldiers still had time to show they had a soft spot, so to speak.
Jamaicans giving directions can be very confusing. A witness was asked where he lived and how far it was from another place. He replied that he had to cross two bridges. Well, I used to live in London, which has around 40 bridges. I have no idea what it means to say I live two bridges away from somewhere. I suspect the lawyers had no idea, either, but were so drunk with the set of answers that they gave up on that one. Truth is that in gully communities in Kingston, crossings may be close, still it’s a vague measure. But, in the same way that Jamaicans use points of reference to give directions–left at the ackee tree, then up to the tamarind tree…–this may all seem fine.
Jamaican lawyers see no problem in being condescending to people who are not their peers. Lloyd D’Aguilar brought it on himself some may say, but that was no reason for an attorney to tell him he needed to pass the bar exams before he could act as a lawyer. Add to that, references to his racial antecedents. Poor form, mate.
Another female lawyer saw fit to tell the witness that he was in the Convention Center not Tivoli Gardens. What?! The man was getting annoyed at her repeated question that he thought he’d answered. Who’s really the one trying to say that “People like you must learn how to act around ‘civilized’ people, or it’s back into the slave hut for you”? Pompous, did I hear someone offer? Any advances?
The Commissioner is trying to find his feet and set the ground rules for engagement between witnesses and lawyers.
He’s bound to get it wrong sometimes, but seems to have a clear idea of where lines are and when they are crossed. He’s been good at defusing tension, often born of misunderstanding. But, that’s also shown that some witnesses have a taut relationship with those representing the security forces, but seem to regard the Commissioner as less of an adversary. Sir David Simmons has been to good uncle, putting a metaphorical arm around the person about to lose his or her cool.
No one calls the Commissioner a “political hack” and stays in the proceedings. Lloyd D’Aguilar went there, and got the resounding boot out of the door.
The stories so far have been a harrowing recounting of events, which if all true are of the most villainous kind. But, we’ve only heard one side so far.
Compensation is clearly expected by some witnesses.
However, when I listened to the list of items missing that included a Rolex watch and a gold nugget, I wondered if a lawyer would ask about the estimated value. That might have show. If the items were thought to be the real thing or fakes. Other claims for damage have been made and will be assessed, in due course. But, people better get ready to be disappointed.
Some 300 witnesses are due to testify. So far, we’ve seen eight. It’s going to be long and tiring.
There’s a lot to learn along the way.