Tue | May 30, 2023

Woman of steel

The story of DPP Paula Llewellyn: How the girl with the lisp, cat-framed glasses and body issues commanded attention

Published:Sunday | March 13, 2022 | 12:12 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer
“I have reached a stage now where I am comfortable in my own skin and I see the contribution that I am making at this level of the justice system to make the office of the DPP a better place; to mentor the persons here to be the best professionals they can be; and to maintain an atmosphere that my colleagues can feel so motivated to actually outshine the DPP – and that is what having security of self can do”: Paula Llewellyn, Director of Public Prosecutions
File Paula Llewellyn, Director of Public Prosecutions

Love her or hate her, Paula Vanessa Llewellyn, Jamaica’s first female and outgoing director of public prosecutions (DPP) – the Government’s chief prosecutor – has courage. Lots of it. The girl who grew up believing she was ugly, outfitted with real...

Love her or hate her, Paula Vanessa Llewellyn, Jamaica’s first female and outgoing director of public prosecutions (DPP) – the Government’s chief prosecutor – has courage. Lots of it.

The girl who grew up believing she was ugly, outfitted with real cat-eyed glasses frames, size 10 feet, and a lisp – which created a phonetic defect as a result of the large space between her upper front teeth – accepted that she was a nerd. In no way foolish or contemptible, she, however, lacked social skills and was boringly studious.

In her early years, she became a voracious reader, devouring books at the speed of lightning, completing two or three on a bathroom trip, as she travelled the real and imaginary world of romance, mystery, and everything in-between.

Paula developed a special love for literature and shared with The Sunday Gleaner during a sit-down interview last week that it was the best subject.

Her thirst for knowledge formed part of her carefully crafted plan for revenge on what bedevilled her, which would prove to be a spectacular comeback.

So meticulous were her plans that she became obsessed with attention to details, which would prove critical in the field in which she has excelled for almost 40 years.

Her revenge also included immaculate articulation and perfect diction through a voice that everyone has now come to recognise.

She outspoke her classmates, was assertive, combative, in your face. Paula began announcing herself the way she wanted to be defined, and not by anyone’s view of who she was. She soon began shedding the ugly-duckling feathers for an articulate swan but has more than doubled that average lifespan.

With boldness, confidence, command and fearlessness, today the DPP has annoyed many, either with perceived action or inaction, especially in an age where the Internet enables access to multiple jurisprudence to just about everyone. She has often found herself defending her actions, explaining, fighting back and even when bruised, never yielding.

Living under the glare of public scrutiny all her professional life, her face showed fleeting disappointment when she had to refute accusations of putting obstacles in the way of anyone in her office who appeared to share or take the spotlight away from her.

Paula Llewellyn is not unlike many Jamaican women. She had her daughter Leah out of wedlock and raised her as a single parent. She had to contend with the unkindness of institutions and individuals, with overt and covert obstacles placed in her way to derail her progress.

But they all backfired.

Although physically absent, her child’s father has been present for all of Leah’s significant milestones and the two enjoy a great father and daughter relationship. Paula is grateful that motherhood found her and, outside of the law, it is her greatest achievement.

Nothing is sweeter than the validation from Leah thanking her for her childrearing efforts, life lessons, as well as gems taught and learnt. The same validation Paula gave to her mother, a nurse, who she called her rock. She, too, has become a rock for her daughter and they speak every day.


Paula’s cat-eyed glasses frames have now become a fashion statement. She is neither conceited nor arrogant, but assertive, and believes those adjectives would have seamlessly fit a male and all would be well in the eyes of society. Women, she said, are held to a higher standard in every field previously dominated by men.

“Being a female first, then as DPP, I always knew, not that I was going to be detained by it, but that is what happens as a woman in a world or an arena which was previously occupied by men, and of a particular age; you are going to be held to account at a higher standard by the public at large and the media, too,” she shared with The Sunday Gleaner.

“I do recall several hard editorials from your publication ( The Gleaner) but I looked at it as part of the slings and arrows that I was going to have to be tested on. And I do remember several commentators as well, and it is what is really called, should I say, an unconscious bias.”

Explaining that women were in a continuous fight for respect, Paula added, “Whereas mediocrity may be excused in men, by the – my daughter would say the patriarchy – the patriarchy is going to ensure that a woman in the same position must do much better to attain the same credibility. But I am here to say that my experience has been that when you have been tested, having come through the fire, like finely tempered steel, once your credibility has been found to be of the highest quality, the respect is there, even from the patriarchy. That has been my experience.”

But where did she get this full measure of legal balls, cojones or testicular fortitude, as she prefers? She revisited her childhood.

With “an extraordinarily positive person” as mother and father who was “a tough cookie”, Paula and her sister were raised to be fearless. ‘Lazy’ and ‘fear’ were two bad words in their household and they learnt early to speak truth to power.

While her father empowered them, he did not relish when assertive Paula spoke truth to him. And mother Mavis made it clear from very early that her great purpose in life was to make sure that both her daughters achieved an education and a profession.

Paula believed they were pressured, and although she raised her daughter similarly, she was not “draconian”. Leah is talkative but discerning, and her mother’s vow not to be a delinquent parent rings in her head. Paula’s front-row view of the legal system has revealed how delinquency breeds dysfunctional children. Too many parents, she said, want to be their children’s friend, instead of being parents. She urged them to get their children to value reading and critical analysis.


Paula learnt to serve the public early, as her mother would take her and her sister, a nurse herself, as she visited individuals to deliver nursing services to the less fortunate.

She thought becoming a librarian would satisfy her appetite for books, but on reaching 14-15 years, she began emerging from being a shy child, discovering instead that she was a frustrated actress.

She wanted more.

The young lady was content to live vicariously through her school friends, their romantic experiences and watched with disinterest as they ‘titivated’ before heading to the Cross Roads bus stop.

She prevailed on her mother to allow her to take the bus home when her sister began school.

She also made a pivotal decision.

“It didn’t matter that I speak with a lisp, it is what I was going to say. It didn’t matter that you are not beautiful in the classical sense, it is the values, and my mother used to teach me this. I got into sixth form and into law and the rest is history,” she said.

So ended the librarian’s dream and law was on the way.

Body image issues were now out the door, replaced with high self-esteem, the ability to self actualise, testicular fortitude, be focused and work hard, competent at what you do, having faith in a higher being and being humble.

Paula Llewellyn, humble? The jury is hung.

But according to her, “The greatest cancer of the mind one can have is insecurity, and you would be surprised that when people are coming at you sometimes in a negative way, it’s because of their insecurities.

“I have reached a stage now where I am comfortable in my own skin and I see the contribution that I am making at this level of the justice system to make the office of the DPP a better place; to mentor the persons here to be the best professionals they can be; and to maintain an atmosphere that my colleagues can feel so motivated to actually outshine the DPP – and that is what having security of self can do,” she said.

In the last five years the ODPP has lost no fewer than 20 persons to the Bench or greener pastures, she said.

She recalled being given several cases no one else wanted, and when a “newly minted” Lensley Wolfe became chief justice, Paula was the most junior and only female deputy DPP and was sent to open the bowling for three to four weeks. She had become known among law enforcement as not being intimidated by anyone, taking the blows but giving as good as she gets. “Just ask KD Knight,” she quipped.

Up to being a deputy and since, she is “privileged” to appear before every Queen’s Counsel in the country.


The courtroom has become the stage for drama, theatrics, barbs and great legal arguments. Paula has taken and given. She recalled being told she had alligator skin after a now-deceased counsel was told that his stick and stones couldn’t hurt her. She had retorted by telling him that he couldn’t touch the alligator’s skin.

“It happens in the Benches and it is part and parcel of the advocacy. I love it. I enjoy it. Chief Justice (Bryan Sykes) and I were deputy DPP at some stage, but when we would all talk in the big room, he always wanted to be a judge. I have never aspired to be a judge, because I am the woman in the arena. You have to know yourself. You have to know your temperament. I like to be in the cut and thrust, in the trenches,” she said.

Paula recalled being told expletives in one case and given the middle finger even though the Crown lost.

“He was a chauvinist, and how dare a woman give him such a hard time,” she explained, insisting that he was neither attacking the lawyer nor woman in her, “but insecurities in himself”.

She recounted some legendary battles with those she considered formidable opponents – Frank Phipps, Lord Anthony Gifford, Jacqueline Samuels Brown, Earl Witter, Churchill Neita and “even Bert Samuels”. She said Queen’s Counsel Valerie Neita Robertson and herself have had some great contests, as well as Jacqueline Samuels Brown.

“I probably would make a bad judge, even though I could have put my mind to it. But in terms of your temperament, you can’t insert yourself into the proceedings,” she shared.

The DPP has, after securing convictions, advised defence to seek character witnesses for their clients from judges so amenable. She has also advised defence lawyers to protect themselves after assessing some cases.

She also settled the argument, maybe, once and for all, about the real or imagined tiff between herself and then Senior Parish Judge Judith Pusey, especially since she threw out the Crown’s case against Kern Spencer in the highly publicised Cuban light bulb case.

“There is no tiff between myself and Judith Pusey. I did my job. I did my job ... And I believed at the time I did that she was wrong and I took the matter to the judicial Review Court and they agreed with me and found in my favour by 2-1, and we move on,” she said.


Paula offered no comments on whether Jamaica should accept the Caribbean Court of Justice as its final appellate court, and said the Privy Council in the Brown and Watson ruling has raised the bar for the death penalty so high that, while it remains on the books, it will be most difficult to secure here.

The DPP secured a conviction in the first case of DNA evidence and also used evidence from video to identify perpetrators and secure conviction in a gang rape of two teenage sisters. She has put away some of the most notorious in the society. She relishes strong advocates.

When Paula was withdrawn for three years from jury cases in the Circuit Court, it opened the door to a senior management course which prepared her for the administrative leadership of the ODPP.

To young women contemplating a similar path, she urged them to realise that their best organ is their mind. They should develop self-confidence, surround themselves with positive role models, strive to be best of themselves and never tell themselves they can’t, Paula advised.

A lover of romantic music, she climbs several steps down from being the ‘general’ in her public persona for romance. She loves lipstick and wears a bit.

Paula Llewellyn is now in the final year of a three-year extension of her contract as DPP. She does not yet know which direction she will walk.

Rest assured that wherever she lands, she will be anchored.