Strong legal team behind Mike Henry’s push for reparation from Britain
An esteemed legal team of British and Caribbean counsels has been pulled together to push for reparation from Britain for the atrocities of the chattel slave system in the Caribbean historically.
In what is being viewed as a critical step to advance Jamaica’s unanimous vote in Parliament in 2015 to seek reparation from Britain, on April 14, veteran Clarendon Central Member of Parliament (MP), Mike Henry, one of the longest serving MPs in Jamaica’s history, spearheaded a virtual conference with leading legal, academic and historical minds to fast-forward his pitch for compensation from Britain for the stains of the slave system.
A release said the event included local, regional and British Queen’s Counsels, other senior legal scholars, long-time European advisers to Henry, Jamaican historians, and members of the National Council on Reparation (NCR).
The release added that conference was chaired by Edward Fitzgerald, Queen’s Counsel from London, with participation by, among others, Lawrence Cartier, attorney from the UK, who has helped to guide the legal aspects of Henry’s fight for reparation; Peter Hargitay, adviser to Henry on European affairs; Frank Phipps QC, who crafted a petition that is to be sent to the Queen in England; Ian Wilkinson QC, former President of the Jamaican Bar Association, who has come on board the drive for reparation; and Bert Samuels, Deputy Chairman of the NCR, along with resource person to shed light on the legal analysis of Jamaica’s legislation that governed slavery before emancipation.
Additionally, two new senior counsels – Douglas Mendes SC of the Trinidad and Tobago Bar, and Godfrey Smith QC of the Belize Bar – are said to have come on board since the conference.
A senior member of the Jamaican Government also reportedly attended the conference which was targeted “to form an opinion and advise Cabinet” of the progress that is being made.
The release said the NCR was formed in 2009, but with “slow progress for years thereafter”, Henry decided that there had to be a turnaround from “nuff talk and little action” on the matter.
With the support of eminent UK attorneys and his long-time advisers in London and the wider European continent, Henry is said to have decided to frontally tackle the need to drive home a reparation claim against Britain, and his latest effort on that track was the recent conference.
The release said after waiting some 14 years for action from successive governments on his private member’s motion from September 2007, and still somewhat in limbo as the mover of the motion, Henry decided to move forward by personally seeking to take a petition to the UK Privy Council.
In getting to this point, he is said to have made the decision after meeting with Public Defender, Arlene Harrison-Henry; Leader of the Opposition, Mark Golding; Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives, Anthony Hylton; and sending a letter to the Speaker of the House enquiring about why there has been no concrete action following the passing of the resolution on the motion.
In keeping with the resolution, Henry is said to have decided to personally pursue all the avenues that are available to him to ensure that the necessary actions are taken.
“The conference has shown the way forward and we have now set clear and short deadlines to file motions and start initiatives that are aimed at airing the demands by the Jamaican people whose descendants were unlawfully abducted from Africa and sold as chattel in Jamaica under British colonial rule,” said Henry in the release.
“The main thrust of the initiative is to seek compensation for the injustices against the former slaves,” he added.
“Whereas former slave and plantation owners received huge payments from the UK Government, those who were thrust into slavery were never considered, much less compensated.
“Added to that is the fact that slavery was illegal in the United Kingdom under common law, but was very much permitted in the colonies under British colonial rule. This fact alone allows for very serious questions of law, justice and human rights to be finally asked – not to mention the reality that crimes against humanity were committed by agents of the British and the colonial masters,” Henry further stated from a historical perspective.
The release said the conference group agreed to draw up preliminary final documents by no later than July 2021, and to start legal and other appropriate actions in the most suitable jurisdictions later this year.
With Jamaica’s head of state being the Queen of England, who is represented by the Governor General locally, the release said the GG is likely to be approached as part of the reparation initiative if the conference group so decides.
The conference group is said to be now engaged in a number of activities in law, media and international politics, and is to further advise on the necessary steps as the process advances.