A High Court judge has ordered the immediate release of a man from Antigua and Barbuda whose deportation was delayed for over five months as he is awaiting trial for a series of fraud and larceny charges.
Delivering a 16-page judgment at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, yesterday afternoon, Justice Vasheist Kokaram ruled that immigration officers did not have the power to delay Troy Thomas’ deportation because he had pending criminal matters.
“If indeed it was evident to the authorities that his deportation could not be effected within a reasonable period of time as a result of his pending criminal charges then he ought to have been released,” Kokaram said.
According to the evidence in the case, Thomas was first detained by immigration officials and ordered to be deported on March 2, 2007.
With his appeal against the decision pending, Thomas was released on a series of supervision orders from the Immigration Division.
While on the orders, Thomas allegedly committed the fraud and larceny offences and was released on bail pending the trials of the cases.
In October last year, he was again detained by Immigration officials, who sought to immediately enforce the previously stayed order, based on his repeated non-compliance.
However, they opted to not push through the deportation until it received advice from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on the criminal charges.
In his claim, Thomas’ lawyer Gerald Ramdeen contended that Thomas should not have been detained based on the criminal charges. He also contended that he (Thomas) should have been deported by the Immigration Division and then extradited by the DPP’s Office to face trial.
In his judgment, Kokaram agreed with Ramdeen’s analysis of what should have been done.
While Kokaram ruled that the division was justified in considering the charges and the fact that Thomas had breached previous supervision orders, it had very little choice but grant him one if it did not plan to deport him within a reasonable time.
“However, even here the evidence demonstrates that the criminal courts have granted the detainee bail and therefore the idea of the detainee being a flight risk or at risk of offending does not on this evidence bear the hallmarks of credibility,” Kokaram said.
As part of the judgment, Kokaram gave the Immigration Division advice on handling such cases in the future.
He noted that deportation orders may only be delayed for a reasonable time in circumstances where the division is having issues in executing the order due to administrative issues.
However, Kokaram noted that there was legislation already in place for deportation to be delayed in circumstances when a person has to serve a prison sentence before.
The advice was accepted by Chief Immigration Officer Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews, who was present in court along with several senior immigration officers.
Ramdeen, who is an Opposition Senator, requested that the judgement be sent to the Attorney General’s office as it is currently drafting amendments to local immigration laws. Kokaram agreed and offered to send it to the Ministry of Finance as one of his recommendations was for proper funding be set aside to effect deportations.
The decision was not a total defeat for immigration officials are they are still permitted to re-detain Thomas, provided that they intend to deport him within a reasonable time.
Thomas was also represented Umesh Maharaj and Dayadai Harripaul, while Ebo Jones, Nicole Yee Fung and Radha Sookdeo represented the Immigration Division.