A group of citizens currently stranded in the United States has sued the Ministry of National Security, over its refusal to disclose the criteria being used to grant travel exemptions under ongoing COVID-19 regulations.
In the lawsuit, which was filed last week, lawyers representing the group, which comprises a couple and their two children who are stranded in Houston, Texas and an elderly woman stranded in Miami, Florida, claimed the ministry's refusal to disclose the information was illegal, irrational, unreasonable and arbitrary.
The judicial review lawsuit was deemed urgent when it came up for hearing before Justice Betsy-Ann Lambert-Peterson last week and the parties were given deadlines for the filing evidence on whether the group should be granted leave to pursue the claim.
The lawsuit is expected to come up for hearing on Thursday.
In the court filings obtained by Guardian Media, the group's legal team is contending their clients and hundreds of citizens stranded abroad deserve to know the criteria to determine whether or not they qualify and whether they had been discriminated against.
"Stranded persons who are being denied entry have no way of knowing whether they meet the criteria, what aspect of it they do not meet, how to make effective representations to secure entry, whether they have been arbitrarily bypassed in favour of others in breach of their constitutional right to equality of treatment under Section 4(d) of the Constitution," they said.
Minister of National Security, Stuart Young.
They claimed that by failing to disclose the information, the ministry effectively insulated exemptions granted by National Security Minister Stuart Young from judicial review.
"The exercise of such an important power and serious discretion in secret by the intended defendant is anathema to the concept of the rule of law, equality, and justice," they said.
Through the lawsuit, the group is seeking a series of declarations and an order compelling the disclosure.
In the court filings, the group's legal team sought to highlight the personal circumstances of its members.
In late February, a seven-month pregnant Raehana Lorick and her first child left Trinidad for Canada so she could undergo an operation. However, the Canadian hospital informed Lorick it could not perform the procedure due to its COVID-19 response focus.
Lorick made arrangements with a hospital in Texas and flew there with her child and her husband joined them before T&T closed its borders in late March. Lorick underwent the procedure and also had her second child during the period. However, several requests for exemptions to return home received generic responses. While abroad, Lorick was laid off from her job and her husband was placed on no-pay leave.
The other member of the group identified is 61-year-old Joanne Pantin, who left the country in March to go to Miami to help her daughter take care of her grandchildren while her son-in-law was recovering from an operation. The group claimed Pantin is under financial strain.
The group's lawsuit comes after political activist Devant Maharaj brought a lawsuit claiming the ministry breached the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by rejecting his call for disclosure of the exemption policy.
The group is being represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC while Reginald Armour, SC, is leading the State's team.