Tue | May 30, 2023

British HC Judith Slater impressed with Jamaican feistiness, women trendsetters

Diplomat pledges to deepen ties, strengthen existing agreements

Published:Sunday | May 1, 2022 | 12:09 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer
“Jamaica is a small country. But its influence in the world is much much larger than you would expect from a small island of some three million people”: Slater
“Jamaica is a small country. But its influence in the world is much much larger than you would expect from a small island of some three million people”: Slater
British High Commissioner to Jamaica Judith Slater.
British High Commissioner to Jamaica Judith Slater.

Career diplomat, lawyer, wife, mother and Stoke City for life football supporter, British High Commissioner to Jamaica Judith Slater, is delighted to be posted here.

She is fascinated by the Jamaican culture and believes there is nothing else in the world like the Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships (Champs), which recently concluded and provided that annual feast of athletic prowess by the country’s young athletes.

Her eyes lit up when she spoke about the talents displayed recently at Champs and before that the Gibson Relays. The girls 100m (16-19 years) and the 4x100 relays, which saw the Clayton twins and Brianna Lyston in action, is seared in her mind, but nothing will erase the electricity of the environment.

Coming to Jamaica from Istanbul, Slater said it was a requirement for diplomats to support Turkey’s football. Not even the rowdiness of British football supporters rise to that of the Turks, where she said the decibel levels are incomparable.

Part of her delight in coming to Jamaica is that she is the first female British High Commissioner here, but she was coming to a country where numerous women were in key positions in several sectors of the society.

“Jamaica is a small country. But its influence in the world is much much larger than you would expect from a small island of some three million people. Jamaica is world leading in a number of areas, and we always talk about sports and the background of why they are so good at it. The pride that Jamaicans have, patriotism, your voice around the world is very loud and very much heard. And people admire lots of things about Jamaica,” Slater said of the sunny former British colony and country of her seventh posting.


Impressed by the “feistiness” of the Jamaican people, the newest British High Commissioner brings a wide range of experience to the post, having served in six other places before.

Above all else, though, she says Jamaica is physically stunning.

“I won’t lie, it’s a beautiful place in the Caribbean, there is a lot going for it. But, like a lot of other countries, it has challenges. Climate change disproportionately affects countries like Jamaica; there is a lot of crime, as we all know. We have quite a big aid programme and are really keen to make sure that it is being spent well to make a real difference to people’s lives,” Slater told The Sunday Gleaner during a sit-down interview last week.

Meeting ‘Fast Elaine’ Thompson, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, prominent women such as the Chief of Defence Staff Rear Admiral Antonette Wemyss Gorman, head of Jamaica Customs Velma Ricketts Walker, Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna, as well as other Jamaican athletes has already endeared her to the country.

“I was lucky enough to watch the next generation at Champs. I absolutely adore Champs,” she said.

“I am very inspired by so many women in prominent positions here; loving meeting them all, love the fact that Jamaicans are very feisty, I love feisty women and I am a feisty woman.”

Slater pursued studies in foreign languages (Italian and French) at Cambridge University before switching midway to law. A lover of the arts and theatre, she expressed pleasant excitement to be meeting Poet Laureate Olive Senior in a few weeks, and author Marlon James (last week). Enthralled also by Jamaican Patois, she hopes to learn the language while here, even having Patois classes at the high commission. She was also very pleased by the readings from the Patois bible at the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Christmas carol service in December.

Despite Jamaica’s crime levels, compared to living in South Africa, the environment is less tense and far more welcoming for her and she is keen to promote several areas of interest.


Coming from a city of nearly 18 million people, the entire Jamaica could hold in Istanbul at least five times. However, she wants to make a real difference during her time here.

“A post like this is very competitive, because people want to come into a stimulating and exciting environment like Jamaica. For me, we have a shared history, shared values, Commonwealth, and some says it’s (Jamaica) small enough to make a difference,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.

“I want to ensure that the UK and Jamaica have a modern, productive relationship of trust based on our long-standing relationship and friendship and our shared values. Within that, ensuring that our development funding is targeted well and really help to improve people’s lives. In terms of number, we are looking to be spending around 90 million pounds in the five years 2020-2025. So it’s a serious amount of British taxpayers’ money and we need to make sure that it’s spent in a way to help Jamaica.”

Issues such as climate change and Jamaica’s vulnerability; making hospitals and health centres more resilient to hurricanes; tackling organised crime, corruption and violence; infrastructure programmes, including to irrigate agricultural lands; and working with the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA), Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), Financial Investigations Division (FID), Integrity Commission and Jamaica Customs Agency are top priority areas for her.

“There are lots of practical areas that we are trying to help make a difference. So my first goal is development, because that’s a huge part of what we’re doing here, and to make sure that money is well spent in a way that Jamaica wants. So listening will be important,” she said.

Slater also wants more British goods in Jamaica.

“I am really keen to grow exports to Jamaica. British exports to Jamaica are really small at the moment, and should be much bigger, given our friendship and history. Why not have a target for doubling our exports, because that’s going to create jobs for Jamaicans?” she said.

Other areas of interest include renewable energy projects such as biodiesel and solar, and a bamboo project. She also disclosed that at least one prominent British business process outsourcing (BPO) entity wants to set up shop here.

Slater is happy that De La Rue won the contract to produce Jamaica’s new bank notes, and if only half the projects materialise, jobs will still be created for Jamaicans and she would be happy.

Traditional diplomacy remains important and focus will be placed on “accentuating the positives, building on the really close people-to-people legs that we have based on nearly a million-strong diaspora”.


The British High Commissioner said there are no plans that she knows of for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to visit Jamaica, but noted that he visited the last two countries she served. She would love him to visit.

Slater said little on the elections for a new Commonwealth Secretary General and Jamaica’s candidature in Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith. She was not prepared to say where was British support, noting that it will be made known at the meeting of the Commonwealth heads in Kigali, Rwanda, in June.

Of Johnson Smith she said, “She is clearly an incredible candidate for that position and we welcome the fact that there is a field and not just the one candidate.”

The UK has said publicly it would like to see a change in the leadership of the secretariat. Slater also did not comment on whether Britain would resume funding to the body should the Dominican-born Briton Baroness Patricia Scotland be re-elected.

She also did not discuss the deportation/asylum deal between Britain and the East African country of Rwanda.

However, she did discuss the controversial deportations to Jamaica.

“I know that there have been some concerns raised about deportations to Jamaica from the UK. And the issues of deportation flights and Windrush are sometimes conflated. Like most other countries, we do return to their countries of origin, including Jamaica, some people who have committed criminal offences or are illegal immigrants,” she said.

Jamaica has argued that among the individuals deported here are some with no immediate family or place of abode. The UK, she said, supports a number of charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Jamaica, such as Open Arms, which offer help to those who are returning.

Fewer than 100 Jamaican offenders or illegal immigrants were deported last year, Slater said, which is less than one per cent of people deported from the UK to countries of origin between 2015 and 2020.

“So the idea that we return a disproportionately larger number of people to Jamaica than to other countries is incorrect,” she stated emphatically.

All who are slated for deportation have access to an appeal system, which often results in reduced numbers deported.

“We do not return anyone who is a British citizen or national or who is eligible for the Windrush compensation scheme,” she stated.


Jamaica hosted the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on a tight 48-hour visit recently in their first visit to the island. There were opposing views about their visit but they were welcomed by many Jamaicans, especially in Trench Town.

Unflattering images emerged showing the Royals greeting Jamaicans through fences, but Slater believes that the Jamaican authorities were trying to avoid them being mobbed. She agreed with the BBC’s description that their trip to Trench Town was like an electricity of joy.

“My observation on that trip to Trench Town is that it crackled like electricity. The royal couple brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people,” HC Slater said.

On the issue of Jamaica’s retention of the Privy Council as its final appellate court, but for which fees are prohibitive to the vast majority of Jamaicans, she said it was the prerogative of Jamaicans to determine where they wanted their final court to reside.

“It’s just evidence of Jamaica being a vibrant and lively democracy; that it is. In the same way, it is not for the UK to tell Jamaica or to seek to influence Jamaica on what its constitutional arrangement ought to be and should be,” she stated.

While acknowledging arguments on the cost to the Privy Council versus the regional Caribbean Court of Justice, she said modern technology and the COVID-19 pandemic may be influencing factors.

“I wouldn’t say that Britain would be getting impatient. It’s entirely up to Jamaica. We would not seek to influence,” she said.

On the issue of removing the Queen as Head of State, she said “with Kamina Johnson Smith’s secretary general candidacy, whether or not that succeeds, it’s really a strong endorsement for the Commonwealth by Jamaica by putting forward such a very well regarded and a valuable member of Prime Minister (Andrew) Holness’ Cabinet. For him to agree that she can run for a position like that, I think it says a lot about Jamaica’s belief in the Commonwealth as a body.”

Barbados recently removed the Queen as its Head of State but remains a member of the Commonwealth.


Addressing the vexing Windrush issue, Slater said the compensation scheme established is “aimed to right the wrongs faced by that generation, and for which the government has unequivocally apologised”.

Millions of pounds have been paid to approximately 1,000 claimants so far, including Jamaicans who were deported after working in England for decades without documents. Thousands of Caribbean people emigrated to the UK in the early 1960s (Windrush generation), who were instrumental in rebuilding the British economy after the second World War. Years later, immigration policy directives saw hundreds deported, including to Jamaica, as they had no documentation to prove British citizenship.

The compensation scheme has been simplified and made more efficient after feedback.

A Basil Watson sculpture will celebrate the Windrush generation’s contribution to Britain and will be unveiled at the Waterloo Memorial on June 22, celebrating Windrush Day. Photo exhibitions, including previously unpublished photos of early arrivals, among other activities, will be part of the celebrations.

The British High Commissioner expressed pride in the education programme that selects some of Jamaica’s best for Chevening scholarships to British universities with fully funded postgraduate studies. That alum is now close to 300 since the initiative started.

For prospective scholars and other young Jamaicans, she urged them to study disciplines they are passionate about.

“Follow your passion or you won’t be happy. Work hard, and study hard,” Slater advised.

Already with memorable experiences in the Cockpit country – the 10-mile Burnt Hill trail – Slater’s husband, who is an avid bird watcher, was in bird heaven seeing some of the species endemic to the area.

Already she has explored scenic areas of Portland, Negril, Treasure Beach and Montego Bay on the island paradise.