The Office of the Attorney General has begun the process of attempting to secure the release of some non-violent inmates due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AG’s Office detailed the steps it had already taken to commence the tedious process in a press release issued on Sunday night.
The release noted that on Saturday, the AG’s Office filed litigation involving the Commissioner of Prisons, the Registrar of the Supreme Court, the Commissioner of Police, and the Children’s Authority seeking information from them on persons, inclusive of child offenders, who may benefit from the precautionary measure.
The litigation was filed electronically according to the Judiciary’s recent practice directions for the pandemic and was assigned to High Court Judge Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds.
Ramsumair-Hinds deemed the case fit for hearing during the pandemic period and a hearing via video conferencing took place on Sunday morning.
After the hearing, the orders sought by the AG’s Office were granted including an additional one, raised by Ramsumair-Hinds, seeking to cover persons imprisoned for failing to pay child maintenance.
The case was adjourned for another such hearing carded for 3 pm on Wednesday.
In the court filings, the AG’s Office sought to define the persons, who may benefit and have previously been approximated at almost 400.
The measure mainly affects adults and children, who have been convicted of summary and indictable offences and who were sentenced to under a year in prison or have less than a year remaining on a higher sentence.
Persons, who have not been convicted of such offences, but who were remanded as they were unable to access the bail initially set for them, are also included.
It will not apply to persons convicted of or on remand for a series of scheduled offences, which carry sentences of over 10 years in prison.
Such offences include those under the Anti-Gang Act, Offences Against the Person Act, the Dangerous Drugs Act, the Kidnapping Act, the Sexual Offences Act, the Anti-Terrorism Act, Trafficking in Persons Act and the Firearms Act.
In the litigation, the AG’s Office suggested that the releases of convicted persons could be facilitated through the commutation of sentences by the President, under her power of pardon prescribed under Section 87 and 89 of the Constitution.
Those on bail will have to seek the variations under the Bail Act in light of the current national health situation.
While the AG’s Office suggested that persons who qualify based on its definitions should be facilitated, it noted that some can still be excluded nonetheless.
“As the exercise under consideration involves Judicial discretion and Presidential discretion ANY other charge or offence not listed in the Schedule may be excluded due to the independent assessment of the violent and/or dangerous nature of the matters involved in any case,” the release stated.
“Accordingly the assessment of risk and need for public protection including victim protection will always remain in central focus,” it added.
The AG’s Office is being represented by Fyard Hosein, SC, Ravi Rajcoomar, Tenille Ramkissoon, Jerome Rajcoomar, Aadam Hosein, and Ryan Grant.
The move by Government to temporarily ease overcrowding in prisons during the pandemic is consistent with the position taken by heads of prisons from across the Caribbean, during a recent virtual CARICOM IMPACS conference.