Public Defender booted from case involving Jamaica's anti-sodomy law

November 09, 2018
Public Defender Arlene Harrison Henry

The Court of Appeal has ruled against the Public Defender being allowed to join a case involving the constitutional challenge to Jamaica's anti-sodomy law.

Maurice Tomlinson brought the case against the state, arguing that "it is past time that Jamaica consigns this archaic law to the dustbin of history and ends the suffering of its citizens".  He is being opposed by the government and 10 religious groups.

IN PHOTO: Attorney-at-law Maurice Tomlinson, who is challenging Jamaica's anti-buggery laws.

Tomlinson had filed a constitutional motion against the Attorney General saying the buggery law amounts to a direct and blatant denial of equality before the law for him and other gay men.

In her application to join the case as an interested party, the Public Defender argued that her office was created for the purpose of protecting and enforcing the rights of citizens. However, Justice Kissock Laing turned down the application stating that the Public Defender was seeking to insert herself into the centre of a nationally divisive issue and could lose the confidence of many Jamaicans if allowed to join the case.

The matter was argued before the Court of Appeal which again ruled against the Public Defender being allowed to join the case. 

"In the time that the Court of Appeal has taken to resolve this issue, courts in three other Commonwealth countries (Belize, Trinidad and Tobago, and India) have all struck down similar British colonially imposed anti-sodomy laws," Tomlinson noted.

He added: "The judges in those cases highlighted the serious human rights abuses caused by these laws, such as homophobic violence, the ongoing invasion of privacy of LGBTQ citizens, and the public health crisis caused by men who have sex with men (MSM) being driven away from effective HIV interventions."

Tomlinson said that there are "almost weekly reports of attacks by state and private individuals against LGBTQ people" in Jamaica, adding that "the country also currently has  the highest HIV prevalence among MSM in the western hemisphere, if not the world (33 per cent)."



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