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Who is a public defender in Jamaica?



Answered By Aneisha Dobson, Associate Writer

An ordinary person in society may, at times, feel invisible and voiceless when unfair and discriminatory events impact him or her. And the truth is that without adequate knowledge about the law and our own rights, seeking remedy may be null and void.

For that reason, it is important that every citizen be knowledgeable of the laws and remedial measures that can be taken.

Today we will explore the role of the Public Defender.
What does this role entail? And how does this role benefit Jamaican citizens?

The Public Defender - The Office

The Office of the Public Defender(OPD) operates under the mandate: “A voice to the voiceless… to loose the chains of injustice”.

This post was established in 1979 under the name of the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

At that time, the main duties were to investigate and remedy complaints of bad administration by the Jamaican government, government agencies or departments.

However, in April 13, 2000 the post was renamed as the Office of the Public Defender. Along with the name change, the position also gained an additional responsibility of addressing constitutional violations by the State.

The Role Of The Public Defender In Jamaica

In Jamaica, the Public Defender plays an important role in the Jamaican justice system. The main role of the Public Defender is to investigate complaints lodged by members of the public who have been wronged by the State or Statutory bodies.

The duties involves interviewing the complainant; collecting documents from complainant and contacting the State or Statutory body.

In an effort to prevent or detect crime, or to protect the rights of individuals, the Public Defender may summon an individual who holds, or who is deemed to hold, important information relating to the investigation.

In addition, the public defender can enter premises where a government authority operates in order to examine documents (The Office of the Public Defender, 2018).

The Office of the Public Defender (OPD) operates independently. This independence ensures government transparency, accountability and democracy.

In addition to the Public Defender, other portfolio positions in the office include:

• Deputy Public Defender
• Director of Investigations &
• Investigators

How To Make A Complaint To The Public Defender

If you have been (or feel you have been) wronged or ill-treated by the State of Statutory Body, here are the correct steps that should be taken to report the matter to the Public Defender In Jamaica:

  1. A complaint must first be lodged to the Head of the alleged department that has committed the offence.

    This must be done BEFORE filing a complaint to the Office of the Public Defender. If nothing has been done to resolve the complaint, then the complainant can write a complaint to the Public Defender.

  2. When writing the complaint letter to the OPD, the following information must be captured:
    • Your name, address, age, telephone, email and whether you have a disability
    • Name of the authority you are complaining about- This includes the government agency or department and any specific person(s) if any
    • Facts about your complaint, including the date the complaint must be made by the person who has suffered the injustice. However, if this person has died, is underage, or cannot act for himself, then someone else may make the complaint.

  3. Once the OPD is in receipt of the complaint letter, they will acknowledge it in writing and assign an investigator to the case.

  4. Since any person or group of persons can make a complaint, the OPD will first verify the complaint with the accused government agency or department. 

  5. Upon receiving a letter from the Public Defender, the government agency or department and the specific person(s) named by the complainant if any, is then given the opportunity to tell their side of the story.

  6. The investigator will then make a report which will consist of his findings of the investigation to the Director of Investigations.

    This is then given to the Public Defender, who analyses the findings and makes his own report. A copy of this report is then given to the complainant, the government agency or department and the person(s) named in the complaint.

  7. If the investigations reveal that a crime may have been committed, then the Public Defender may direct the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

    The Director of Public Prosecutions will then decide if someone should be charged or taken to court.

Recommendation by the Public Defender

After the investigation, the Public Defender can make the one of the following recommendations:

  1. Re-examine the complaint
  2. Recommend that the existing laws, which relate to the complaint, be changed.
  3. Financial compensation other forms of compensation
  4. The accused should be disciplined or dismissed

Limits Of The Public Defender

Note that The Public Defender’s action is limited to that stipulated in the law. The Office of the Public Defender website outlines some complaints the Public Defender cannot act on, for example...

  • A case where the Ministry of Justice is seeking to extradite a person to another State (Office of the Public Defender, 2018)
  • Any decision of The Services Commission which deals with a disciplinary sanction applied to a State Employee (Office of the Public Defender, 2018)
  • Giving of national honours or awards by the body responsible for such things (Office of the Public Defender, 2018)
  • The utilization by the Governor-General of his power to exercise mercy in respect of a convicted person (Office of the Public Defender, 2018)

Important things to note

  1. Unlike the Public Defender in the United States of America, for example, who represents poor persons charged with serious criminal offences in any court or tribunal, the Public Defender in Jamaica investigates complaints lodged by members of the public who have been wronged by the State or Statutory bodies, but does not go to court to address these wrongs.
  2. Any national can lodge a case with the Public Defender, as long as the alleged wrong occurred in Jamaica
  3. Our Current Public Defender, Attorney-at-Law, Arlene Harrison Henry became the first woman in Jamaica to be appointed Public Defender on January 16, 2015.

Quite a mouthful right?

Indeed, but if you still need additional information or clarification regarding the role of the Public Defender and how it might help you, go ahead and reach out to the office as listed below.

Office of The Public Defender
22-24 Duke Street,
P.O. Box 695
Kingston, Jamaica, W.I.
Tel: 876-922-7089/7090/7109/8256
Toll Free 1 800 429 5673

See also: What Are The Responsibilities Of The Prime Minister Of Jamaica?


  • BAKER, A. (2015, January 16). New Public Defender Sworn In. Retrieved from Jamaica Information Service:
  • Jamaica Information Service. (2006, March 1). Public Defender Clarifies Role. Retrieved from Jamaica Information Service:
  • Office of the Public Defender. (2018). ROLE AND FUNCTION OF THE PUBLIC DEFENDER. Retrieved from Office of the Public Defender:

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