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Mike Henry hopes for reparation for Jamaica before retirement

Published:Monday | July 19, 2021 | 12:07 AMCecelia Campbell-Livingston/Gleaner Writer
Mike Henry
Mike Henry

Central Clarendon Member of Parliament Mike Henry says he has one thing on his bucket list he wants to accomplish before he hangs up his political boots. This is what he terms ‘unfinished business’ and that is, pushing a successful petition for...

Central Clarendon Member of Parliament Mike Henry says he has one thing on his bucket list he wants to accomplish before he hangs up his political boots. This is what he terms ‘unfinished business’ and that is, pushing a successful petition for over £10 billion in reparation pay out for Jamaica.

In 1833, the British formally abolished slavery in its colonies with the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. But after a long delay in Britain, the government compensated West Indian planters for shifting from slave to free labour, allotting £20 million for that purpose. The debt wasn’t completely paid off until 2015.

Making reference to it, Henry said paying off the owners and no compensation given to slaves who were dehumanised is unfair. The slaves were abused by estate owners and the amount reparation amount being asked for is only fair.

“This all began from the Barbados slave law and South Carolina, then colonies of Great Britain and practised in Jamaica,” he told the The Gleaner.

Henry, who is pushing for a successful bid, has assembled some of the best legal minds from Jamaica, the UK and the wider Caribbean.

Among them are Frank Phipps QC; Ian Wilkinson QC; Edward Fitzgerald QC; Godfrey Smith QC, from Belize; Lawrence Cartier, United Kingdom-based attorney; and Peter Hargitay Campbell, as an adviser. Henry said that he now has the blessings of the National Committee on Reparations, which has approved and confirmed the work of the petition that Henry’s team has presented to them.


Reparation is the action of making amends for a wrong one has done, by providing payment or other assistant to those who have been wronged. Henry is hoping that Jamaicans, whose ancestors were humiliated and treated in the worst way in that country, can now be compensated.

Stressing the importance of Jamaican people understanding what reparations means for the country, he said it would mean a debt-free Jamaica now with the ability to adjust the social imbalances within the society.

Henry, who chose to pursue the legal path to secure reparation for Jamaica and, by extension, the Caribbean, said he intends to file a petition which will be dispatched to the Queen of England.

“Acting then on my right, I expanded the legal team and asked my British legal firm to stand by for moving forward the motion and how to advance the movement for reparations for chattel slavery,” he shared with The Gleaner, adding that is being done by invoking Section 4 of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council Act of 1833, “and a petition done in my name as a private citizen; and by submitting and seeking to obtain the approval of the NCR (National Council on Reparation)”.

Henry is now trying to ‘dot the Is’ as his team prepares to file the petition.

“My team has not yet filed the petition. As we have always sought Government’s support, we would expect to present it for the Government to approve, so we meet on the 28th to fine tune our final petition.

“We maintained dialogue with the attorney general, who spoke on it in Parliament also,” said Henry, who stressed his need to “try to finish unfinished work”.

Historian and retired Professor Rupert Lewis, weighing in on the issue, shared with The Gleaner that what governments are willing and able to do depends on the pressure from the population.

“The reparation movement has a lot more work to do in educating the Jamaican people as to the moral and economic case for reparatory justice. One million Africans were enslaved and brought to work on plantations in Jamaica,” Lewis said, stating that calculating reparatory payment begins with the fact that a monetary value on a human life will never compensate for the damage done.

Sharing that acceptance that slavery was a crime against humanity and an apology is the beginning, Lewis said it should be followed by negotiations over damage to the enslaved and their descendants.

“One method has been to calculate the compensation paid to slave owners in the 1830s, plus the cost of free labour during the four years of apprenticeship. That amounted to some 45 million pounds at the time, which would be valued at about six trillion pounds in 2021,” Lewis said, adding that the CARICOM 10-point plan sets out the framework for the damage done and redress necessary for our development.