A SAN Fernando woman who was jailed for almost eight months for failing to pay close to $.1 million in fines has been freed by a High Court judge
Justice Kevin Ramcharan held Alicia George’s detention was not justified.
On Friday he presided over a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of George, who was convicted on August 9, 2017. She had stolen thousands of dolalrs from another woman.
George was fined and given three months to pay over $95,000 on the 49 convictions.
On July 31, 2019, she was arrested for non-payment of the fines and made to serve the default sentences.
In the writ application, George’s attorneys Anand Ramlogan, SC, Alvin Pariagsingh, Jayanti Lutchmedial and Ganesh Saroop, argued that there was no endorsement on the remand warrant at the prison on whether the default sentences were to run concurrently or consecutively.
If they were to run concurrently, then George would have had to serve at most six months’ simple imprisonment, since she was a first-time offender and her sentence would have expired on January 31, without any remission given by the prison authorities.
In ordering her immediate release, Ramcharan admitted he had the unenviable task of trying to understand what had happened, since there was no audio recording of the 2017 sentencing proceedings available and there were three different signatures on the magistrates’ court extract.
He said there were discrepancies and without the audio recording, it was unclear who was responsible for which endorsement, since they said both “concurrent” and “consecutive,” but written by different people. judging from the signatures.
Ramcharan said he would bound by the endorsement on the extract, and had to rule in George’s favour that the order of the magistrate should have been “to run concurrently.”
Since she should have been released by January 31, Ramcharan said her continued detention could not be justified, and ordered her immediate release.
A relieved George said she was happy the matter was over.
In her application, she explained she could not afford to pay the fines at the time.
The Commissioner of Prisons was represented by State attorney Monica Smith.
Friday’s hearing was held at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain. Before the sitting, cleaning staff sanitised the courtroom by wiping down doorhandles and tables.
Although most sittings of the court have been suspended, matters involving writs of habeas corpus, bail applications and matters deemed urgent are being allowed.
Also on Friday, Justice Ricky Rahim, in another writ of habeas corpus application, gave the police until 4 pm to charge or release a Couva man who was arrested and has been in custody since Monday as a suspect in investigations into robbery and possession of illegal firearms.