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Hall of Justice

PETER CHRISTOPHER

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The ongoing migrant saga took another twist yesterday as the court of appeal overturned the decision made by Justice Frank Seepersad not to grant an injunction to pause the deportation of 11-year-old Venezuelan girl while a constitutional challenge filed on her behalf remained to be considered before the court.

In a ruling yesterday, Justices Ronnie Boodoosingh and James Aboud reversed the December 1 decision, with Justice Aboud in particular expressing concerns that Seepersad appeared to have pre-judged the matter before giving his ruling on December 1 without weighing the rights of the child during his assessment.

Aboud referred to the 75- minute deliberation taken by the high court judge to deliver the ruling, as well as excerpts from the 32 page decision as he offered the recommendation that Seepersad not be the judge when the constitutional challenge returns to the high court.

He also questioned Seepersad’s decision to hinge his ruling on the migrant’s mother status as well as her decision to break T&T’s laws to bring her daughter to this country as there were other variables that should have been considered.

“That is a finding that the entry was illegal because at the time the mother made the arrangement she had a UNHCR certificate and that is still a live question. It may not be a very powerful question but it is still live,” said Aboud.

“It suggests that he is certain in his mind that crimes have been committed, crimes that no constitutional argument can absolve,” said Aboud, who also called for the reversal of the order to refer the child’s mother, also a Venezuelan migrant, to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police because she had broken laws by firstly entering the country illegally and also attempting to bring her child into this in contravention with this country’s laws.

“It would not be fair, certainly to the child, to be before a magistrate facing charges and at the same time to be in the high court advancing a constitutional argument as to why she ought to remain with her mother pending the hearing of her claim of constitutional relief,” the Appeal Court judge said.

Boodoosingh, while less critical of the high court judge’s ruling, agreed that Seepersad should not be the sitting judge when the matter is recalled to the high court.

“He was right to consider the manner of entry without a visa and in breach of the COVID laws but in our respectful view there was no sufficient weighing of these matters as against the specific likely prejudice to the child in this case having landed on our shores,” said Boodoosingh who made reference to the fact that this country subscribes to UN conventions concerning the rights of a child whilst also having several laws protecting children on our books as well.

“The mother’s acts cannot be ascribed to the child here,” he said, “The judge was plainly wrong not to grant the injunction.”

Attorney Gerald Ramdeen, the migrant’s attorney, said the ruling was a landmark decision which “will affect every person from the Venezuelan that comes here republic seeking asylum”

However it remains unclear if the 11 year old, who was among the group of 16 children and 9 adults allegedly repatriated to Venezuela in November via pirogue before returning a day later, will be allowed to reunite with her mother before Christmas as they await word from Immigration concerning her release.

“The quarantine period has been complete and we now await the immigration authorities to make a decision with respect to reunification big the child with the mother. They will also have to take into consideration the judgement of the court of appeal today,” said Ramdeen.

Pastor Elizer Torres, who was in contact with the migrant’s mother said she was relieved but sad following the ruling as it remained unknown how long it would before her child would be released to her.