Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Report on Hearings of Belize and TnT Immigration Law Challenge

Reposted 12th, November, 2013
Day One Report of Hearings into Belize and TnT Immigration Law Challenge: 
Today, 12th November,  the Caribbean Court of Justice heard arguments via teleconference by legal representatives of Maurice Tomlinson, the state of Belize and the state of Trinidad and Tobago. Lord Gifford, representing Tomlinson, petitioned the court to allow Tomlinson leave to bring a case before the court, seeking redress for violations of his free movement rights guaranteed under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas to nationals of CARICOM member states. He alleges that sections of the immigration laws of Belize and Trinidad and Tobago which prohibit the entry of homosexual persons into those countries, violate his rights. The hearing today was simply to determine whether Tomlinson, a homosexual, can bring the case which, if granted permission, he will bring in the near future.

Gifford presented his case that leave should be granted, to which Belize and Trinidad and Tobago responded. Gifford was then allowed to respond to the states’ arguments. Both Belize and Trinidad and Tobago argued that Tomlinson should not be granted leave to bring the case.

Belize, by its lawyer, Nigel Hawke, argued that the term ‘homosexual’ as used in the Belize Immigration Act referred to a homosexual prostitute and not just a homosexual, although the Act prohibits ‘homosexuals’ on a plain reading of it. Hawke argued that his interpretation reflected the Belize government’s position and referred to the written testimony submitted on behalf of the Belize government, saying that Belize Immigration Authorities do not prevent homosexuals from entering Belize. He referred to the fact that Tomlinson himself had entered Belize four times.

Tomlinson says in his written testimony that he had been to both Belize and Trinidad and Tobago on multiple occasions, prior to knowing of the laws. He says that since he came to know of them, he has had to refuse invitations to visit both countries. Gifford Q.C, relied on cases to show that even if the government claimed they didn’t enforce a law, it could still operate to restrict people’s rights. The essence of the argument runs that the law makes de facto criminals of homosexuals who enter, forcing some people to alter their behaviour. In Maurice’s case the behaviour which was altered (travelling to Belize and to Trinidad and Tobago) was a behaviour he was entitled to by right as a national of a CARICOM member state.

The court seemed unsatisfied by the Belize government’s written evidence that they didn’t prohibit homosexuals, questioning Hawke as to whether they should require further evidence. Justice Nelson even asked Hawke what was the relevance of state practice, inviting him to respond to Gifford’s arguments that the law in and of itself restricted Tomlinson’s rights, irrespective of whether the state enforced it or not. Hawke contended that Belize’s practice of not prohibiting homosexuals evidences the Belize government’s interpretation of the law as argued by Hawke.

When asked whether the court should issue a declaration that the allegedly offending section of the law referred to homosexual prostitutes only as argued by Hawke, Hawke responded that that wasn’t necessary because the Belize government already understood it to mean that.

Trinidad through its lawyer, Seenath Jairam, appearing with Wayne Sturge and a host of other attorneys, argued that what is relevant in determining whether a treaty had been violated was the impeached state’s practice. He argued that Trinidad and Tobago had a policy of non enforcement of the law, which he interpreted to refer to homosexuals and not homosexual prostitutes as Belize argued. The allegedly offending provisions in both laws (primarily s. 5(1)(e) of the Belize Immigration Act and 8(1) (e)of the Trinidad and Tobago Act) are almost identical. Jairam supported his arguments with such cases as the recent Shanique Myrie decision (http://www.caribbeancourtofjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/2013-CCJ-3-OJ.pdf

Jairam argued that because Trinidad and Tobago’s state practice was such that it didn’t prevent homosexuals from entering and that because Tomlinson was not prevented from entering before, the application was “an academic exercise”. He drew a comparison to hanging, saying that Trinidad and Tobago had laws on its books which allowed hanging but that they nonetheless did not hang. When asked by the court whether that meant that hanging was illegal, he responded that that was a matter for the constitutional court. He alluded to the fact that governments had financial constraints and that there were costs involved in repealing laws. Incidentally that has not prevented Trinidad and Tobago from repealing other laws it wished to repeal.

Jairam argued further that Tomlinson could have applied for a special permit from the Minister responsible for immigration as Sir Elton John did back in 2007. Gifford had earlier pointed the court to the section of the Trinidad and Tobago Immigration Act which permitted the Minister responsible for Immigration to grant the special permit, spoken of by Jairam, to a specific group of prohibited persons only. This group did not include homosexuals, a fact it seems that was overlooked by Trinidad and Tobago authorities in 2007 when Sir Elton John was granted a special permit to enter.

Justice Nelson expressed concern over whether a policy was sufficient protection of the rights guaranteed to nationals of CARICOM countries, asking rhetorically, “what happens when government changes?” He also asked Jairam non rhetorically whether the court should strike out the allegedly offending sections since they weren’t enforced. Jairam responded, to the bemusement of many in the court, that the court should not strike out the sections because that might allow terrorists to enter the country.

Lord Gifford Gifford responded to the State’s arguments by reiterating that a policy was just a policy and was subject to change with any given government. He also reiterated that the mere existence of the laws, whether they were enforced or not, was sufficient to restrict a person’s rights.

The court reserved its judgment which we expect will be delivered tomorrow.
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