A High Court judge has given the immigration division with guidelines for the detention of illegal immigrants who have pending criminal charges in TT.
Justice Vasheist Kokaram provided the guidance in a ruling on the habeas corpus application of an Antiguan man detained for the past five months at the Immigration Detention Centre in Aripo, who has 14 pending charges for fraud-related offences.
Although ruling that it was not unreasonable to have first detained Troy Thomas, Kokaram said immigration officials had no authority to continue to detain him on the basis that he had pending criminal charges.
“Detention under the Immigration Act cannot be indefinite. Such administrative powers of detention are to be exercised strictly within its statutory remit and for a reasonable period of time,” he said, as he ordered Thomas’ immediate release.
Kokaram said immigration authorities must demonstrate that their powers of detention are exercised lawfully and the period for doing so limited to that which is reasonable to give effect to a deportation.
According to the evidence before Kokaram, Thomas had a poor record of complying with supervisory orders of the division, which was also awaiting the advice of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) on the status of the criminal matters.
Kokaram said in the absence of a response from the DPP, there was no reason to stay the deportation order for Thomas, which had been made on March 2, 2007, or to wait indefinitely for the DPP’s advice.
“A failure to make arrangements for his deportation will render his continued detention unreasonable and devoid of a statutory purpose,” Kokaram said.
Thomas was remanded in prison on numerous occasions after he breached several orders of supervision and in October last year, he was arrested on the fraud-related offences. He was also granted bail. The judge was also told the immigration division asked on March 8 by for $18,532 to buy tickets for Thomas and two escorting officers for his deportation on March 17.
Kokaram said the only statutory restrictions to pre-empt the execution of a deportation were if the person was serving a prison term.
He also advised the respective departments, including those responsible for funding, to establish a clear policy to deal with such cases. Although he ordered Thomas' immediate release, Kokaram left it up to the immigration division to execute its deportation order for Thomas.
The judge also agreed to have the Registrar of the Supreme Court send his ruling to the chief parliamentary counsel to assist with drafting legislation which deals with the detention of illegal immigrants with criminal charges pending, the Ministry of Finance and the DPP.
Thomas was represented by attorneys Gerald Ramdeen, Umesh Maharaj and Dayadai Harripaul. The Chief Immigration Officer, Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews, was represented by Ebo Jones, Nicole Yee Fung and Radha Sookdeo. Gandhi-Andrews was in court for the ruling.