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Justice Margaret Mohammed. -
Justice Margaret Mohammed. –

On Friday, a High Court judge will rule on the continued detention of a Venezuelan boy and his mother, despite objections from the State.

The decision that Justice Margaret Mohammed will give on Friday morning concerns the ruling of the Privy Council on July 14 that the 15-year-old boy’s detention for 19 months was unlawful.

The Privy Council deferred to the judge on whether the mother and son’s period of detention was reasonable.

The landmark ruling also dealt with the exercise of power by the State to detain children using an unwritten policy that when a parent and child enter Trinidad and Tobago illegally, a deportation order is also taken as a deportation order against the child.

They held the child had been subject to “a non-judicial detention” and said: “Lawful authority to detain cannot be derived from the respondent’s policy.”

Mohammed is hearing the habeas corpus application filed on behalf of the child and his mother, which calls on the Chief Immigration Officer to justify their detention from December 15, 2020, to the present.

They have each been issued deportation orders.

Another judge, Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams, is hearing a constitutional claim filed on behalf of the two and other Venezuelans who are also being detained by the State. A status hearing in that matter has been fixed for October.

They were part of a group that entered TT illegally in November 2020. They were escorted out of TT by the Coast Guard but returned days later. They were held again and detained in quarantine and then on deportation orders.

Attorney Gerald Ramdeen, who represents the two, urged the court to find that the detention of his client “had long passed the reasonable period.”

He said the Privy Council sent back to her to identify whether the continued detention of his clients was reasonable.

“After 19 months, it does not fall for the State to say we want more time. The prejudice being suffered by the minor, mother, and father far outweighs the position of the State.”

Friday’s hearing descended into bedlam when the lead attorney for the State argued against the judge’s making a ruling on the habeas corpus application or entertaining submissions on it without giving the CIO an opportunity to investigate, among other things, a claim that the boy’s father was living in Trinidad, although he, too, was an illegal immigrant.

Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein said he could not vouch for the document from the Venezuelan Embassy in Trinidad on the certification of the familial relationship between father and son, alleging fraud.

“We have a right to investigate the paternal relationship.”

He also said the CIO had to carry out its own investigation to determine whether the two should be released while the State was concerned about the deluge of thousands of Venezuelans who breach the country’s laws and regulations, and are involved in trafficking women and children; prostitution; crime; guns;and gangs.

“They do what they wish to do in this country. Why is the State being denied an opportunity to provide an answer to the affidavits filed by the other side?”

He also said it was an indictment on the Judiciary for not hearing the matters urgently.

“If it (the Judiciary) wants to release these people, that is them. The chief immigration officer is not going to do that.

“We are inundated with Venezuelans who breach the Immigration Act. This is not a normal refugee case… This is a massive operation. Gangs are involved in the trafficking of women and children…prostitution.

“They do what they wish to do in this country. They are economic migrants, nothing more.”

He also took issue with the judge’s refusal of his request for an adjournment.

Mohammed said the case involved the detention of two people, one of whom is a minor, for almost 20 months. She said the State had provided no good reason to postpone the hearing, since it had had ample time since the ruling of the Privy Council to gather the evidence required.

“I find the judge’s ruling to be personally offensive and inappropriate.”

Ramdeen, defending the judge, pointed out that at the Privy Council the State’s lead attorney, Peter Knox, QC, had conceded that the constitutional motion filed by his clients was not hopeless.

This was in response to Hosein’s submissions that the case had no real prospect of success and the State was being forced to feed, house, shelter and provide medical treatment for thousands of Venezuelans illegally in TT.

Also representing the mother and child are Umesh Maharaj and Dayadai Harripaul. Sanjiv Sookoo, Vincent Jardine and Ameera Rahaman also represent the chief immigration officer.