The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has advised Caricom members to amend or interpret their immigration laws to properly facilitate the free movement of regional nationals through individual member states.The CCJ gave the advice yesterday while delivering a judgment in favour of Jamaican Shanique Myrie who claimed she was mistreated and denied her automatic entry rights by Barbados immigration officials in 2011.
Barbados was ordered to pay Myrie BDS$77,240 (US$38,820) in compensation, in addition to the legal, travel and other expenses she incurred in pursuing the lawsuit. Myrie, her attorney Michelle Brown and the legal team representing Barbados were not present at the CCJ's Henry Street, Port-of-Spain, headquarters for the judgment. Instead they viewed the proceedings from courtrooms in Barbados and Jamaica, via video conferencing.
Reading the executive summary of the judgment, CCJ president Sir Dennis Byron said: "The court indicated that it expects Barbados to interpret and apply its domestic laws liberally so as to harmonise them with community law or, if this is not possible, to alter them."
Judges Rolston Nelson, Adrian Saunders, D�sir�e Bernard, Jacob Wit, David Hayton and Winston Anderson also sat on the panel.
As part of the 60-page ruling in the landmark case, the seven judges ruled that through the action of its officials, Barbados contravened Article 45 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.They also declared that Barbados breached Myrie's rights under a decision arising out of a Caricom Heads of Government conference in 2007, in which regional leaders agreed that Caricom nationals should be automatically granted six months' entry when arriving in other member states.
In defence of the claim, Barbados claimed the decision was not unanimous, because of a reservation raised by one member state, and said it could only be bound by the decision if it had enacted it into its domestic laws.
Byron said the panel rejected this argument, saying there was no evidence that the decision was invalid, and stated: "If binding regional decisions can be invalidated at the community level by the failure of a particular state to incorporate those decisions locally, the efficacy of the entire Caricom regime would be jeopardised."
Byron said entry could be denied in circumstances where the national of another member state is "deemed undesirable" or is likely to be a charge on public funds."The court held that in order for a member state to limit the right of entry of a national of another member state in the interests of public morals, national security and safety, and national health, the visiting national must present a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to affecting one of the fundamental interests of society," Byron said.
He said the court was of the opinion that in circumstances where a national was denied entry on a legitimate ground, the member state is required to allow the individual the opportunity to contact an attorney, his country's consular office or a family member.In their judgment, the CCJ said after reviewing all the evidence in the case, the court was of the belief that Myrie's case had been proven.
As a secondary issue, Myrie alleged that she was discriminated against because of her nationality, but the court rejected this argument because she could not prove that Barbados nationals were treated more favourably than their Caricom counterparts.
In her lawsuit, Myrie claimed when she travelled to Barbados on March 14, 2011, her passport was stamped and she was granted entry for a month.She said two hours later, she was subjected to a full cavity search by a female immigration officer and was verbally abused.She was kept in an unsanitary holding cell at the Grantley Adams International Airport, before she was eventually deported to Jamaica the day after.
She was subjected to cruel, inhumane, insulting or demeaning treatment and produced medical evidence which showed she was still suffering from post-traumatic stresss from her overnight detention.Barbados denied the allegations. Jamaica was listed as an intervening party in the case.
Jamaican High Commissioner responds
Jamaica High Commissioner Sharon Saunders, commenting on the judgment said, it was a victory for Myrie and Jamaica.In an interview immediately after the judgment was handed down, Saunders said: "I am very happy. In fact, I am feeling a bit emotional, because it has been a long journey."Saunders described it as a landmark judgment and said it set the precedent for the free movement of Caricom citizens in the region.
"This sets a standard that needs to be observed by all member states. It will mean that governments acrosss the region will have to raise the bar," Saunders said.