Tivoli Commission of Enquiry: Unnecessary narrative? Good grief!

Until the Commissioners complete the testimony of the some 300 expected witnesses, the enquiry will be an array of lasting moments, some less edifying than others.

Yesterday, an old lady named Joan McCarthy gave her testimony and was cross examined.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 6.44.09 AMMuch of what she described touched on how she and her family had been herded by soldiers and police, ‘badmouthed’ by them, and some of the young men taken to another apartment. Not all of them walked back down. Miss McCarthy (and she was quick to correct her title when stated as “Mrs”–a very interesting piece of Jamaican social interplay) told of seeing a pair of security officers carrying a blood-stained sheet downstairs. She could not see the body, but a leg and foot were hanging out. Enough was visible, she said, to confirm that the sheet contained the body of her grandnephew.

Under cross examination, she tried to expand on her answers, as witnesses often try to do. In trials, lawyers often stop such elaboration because it can dilute the point in an answer. But, this is not a trial. So, when the lawyer stops such elaboration one has to wonder about the purpose of this already flawed process. When the lawyer, Ms. Neita-Robinson tells the Commissioners that she’s doing this to avoid any “unnecessary narrative”, you should draw breath.

If you’ve seen or thought you’ve seen the dead body of a relative, whom you think has been just killed, ‘unnecessary narrative’ does not apply. This is grief coming out, and it should flow as it will. If it takes time then give it. Why add insult to injury?

At one point, the Commissioners adjourned for 20 minutes so that Ms. McCarthy could recompose herself. That’s an indication of what some people are having to endure.

Emotions are fragile elements of the human spirit. Play with them at your peril. There is no need to demean their expression.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

6 thoughts on “Tivoli Commission of Enquiry: Unnecessary narrative? Good grief!”

  1. Exactly, I completely agree with you Dennis! Problem is, Ms. Neita Robertson is getting paid to protect the interests of the security forces (the JCF, I think?) and doesn’t want it to be too heart-rending. It will not reflect well on her clients… I wish there was some other way of doing this, but hopefully it will at least mean some kind of justice for the residents. And at least allow to tell their stories…


    1. I think it’s already reflected badly. But, the security forces have not yet had their day. They asked for immunity, which some think, reasonably, suggests guilt in some degree.

      Without seeking to make too much of the stories in abstract, I think they’ve been documented well; many were told closer to the actual events. Now, there is a new audience and a new climate of opinion.

      Jamaicans tend to think we’ll of their older citizens and often react badly to claims of their being abused or I’ll-treated.

      I accept that lawyers have to represent clients and their wishes. I also think that those for JCF and JDF have set an unfortunate combative, dismissive and disparaging tone. We also had the shouting at a witness of Mr. Gordon yesterday, and his calling the witness a liar, which had to be dealt with.


      1. I have not been following very much this week, just too busy running around! But I don’t like Mr. Gordon’s approach either – he represents the JDF. I think the lawyers’ attitude is awful too but was to be expected. This is how they behave in court (actually much worse) – I have seen it for myself.


      2. But, as I’ve said, it’s not court and not a trial. A serious problem will persist if this distinction keeps being ignored.

        Credit JNN for live broadcasts and rebroadcasts and summaries. I’ve caught up via these, myself, at times.


  2. Yes, the “unnecessary narrative” comment was stark and offensive. Unnecessary to whom? According to what criteria? I deem the narrative very necessary to record the voices and experiences of the witnesses. Why do you want to keep their words out of the official record?
    Ironic that at some later date, year, time, someone may say/ask – But you/she didn’t say anything about that at the enquiry. Look at the transcript. Nothing about that is recorded here!
    Who gets their narratives recorded. Who says what should be recorded or not. Who holds the power to write the history. All important.


    1. ‘Why do you want to keep their words out of the official record?’ Why indeed! It’s utterly disrespectful to make it appear that a person’s testimony is truncated, for the effect of ‘winning’ or ‘proving’ a point. As I said, these may be alright tactics in a trial, but to me inappropriate in an enquiry, in the true meaning of that word.

      We’ve seen the need for people to express themselves fully to help clear their heads of terrible events. Today’s witness breaking down was another aspect of why it’s important for people to relive the grief as they wish to.


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