Derek Achong

A High Court Judge has rejected a lawsuit from a group of over 500 remand prisoners over health and safety measures at the country’s prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Delivering a written judgment on Thursday, High Court Judge Robin Mohammed denied the activist group Justice Seekers Association, who filed the novel lawsuit in the name of five of its members- Dexter Simon, Timothy Mohammed, Lawrence Diaz, Kevin Patrick, and Miguel Esis, leave to pursue its judicial review case against acting Prisons Commissioner Dennis Pulchan.

Mohammed said: “It cannot be said the commissioner breached any statutory duty.”

“In that regard, the court is also not satisfied that the Applicants/Intended Claimants have shown an arguable ground for judicial review with a realistic prospect of success on this basis,” Mohammed said.

He added that from his analysis of the case, Pulchan had implemented measures that were sufficient and in accordance with guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Ministry of Health.

Mohammed also noted that under the Prison Rules the group’s members are allowed to make a complaint to Pulchan or the Inspector of Prisons but chose to not do so and filed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit began after prisoners’ complaints were first highlighted in a series of pre-action protocol letters sent to the Attorney General’s Office, acting Prisons Commissioner Dennis Pulchan, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, and National Security Minister Stuart Young in mid-April.

In May, the group’s lawyers wrote to the State seeking a series of undertakings in the case including providing cloth masks and cleaning supplies to prisoners. None were given.

The group filed for interim relief, but the application was heard along with the substantive case in a rolled-up hearing before Mohammed in late July.

Lawyers for the applicants also noted that since issuing their correspondence there have been numerous reports of prisoners contracting the virus and prison officers being placed on quarantine, which they claim justify the urgency of the case.

Through the lawsuit, the group was seeking declarations that the Prison Service failed to comply with 1943 Prison Rules regarding actions required in a pandemic such as COVID-19 and that the alleged breach infringed their constitutional rights to life and health.

The group is also being represented by Anthony Nigel, Sallian Holdip-Francis, and Antonya Pierre.

Fyard Hosein, SC, Adam Hosein, Krystal Madhosingh, Kadine Matthews and Hillary Muddeen represented the State.