Prisoners Lose Appeal on COVID-19 Protection
Featured Image Above – From left: Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Briana Williams, and Shericka Jackson celebrate after the quartet won the women’s 4x100m relay gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
THREE Court of Appeal judges have thrown out an appeal of a judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit of five remand prisoners against the Health Minister and Commissioner of Prison for failing to implement covid19 regulations for the prison.
In an oral decision on Monday, Justices of Appeal Gregory Smith, Prakash Moosai and Charmaine Pemberton dismissed the appeal filed by the five against a ruling of Justice Robin Mohammed who, in October 2020, threw out their application for judicial review.
The prisoners had also sought the court’s permission to represent a larger group of 509, going by the name Justice Seekers Association, but the Appeal Court on Monday said they were not in a position to maintain any representative action against the Ministry of National Security.
In his ruling, Mohammed, in addition to throwing out the application for judicial review, also dismissed an application for an injunction which asked that the prison commissioner provide cleaning agents and protective wear, and ensure that cells are professionally sanitised one a week.
The judge had also refused the prisoners’ request for immediate testing of the prison population, not just checking temperatures, and to provide reusable and washable cloth masks.
In their decision, the Appeal Court judges upheld every aspect of Mohammed’s decision. They held there was no breach of due process or protection of the law or the prison regulations on cleanliness or medical care.
They accepted the evidence of Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram and prison officials on the protocols at the prisons to ensure prisoners’ safety, which include sanitising the facility twice daily, issuing face masks, and mandatory quarantine of all prisoners entering the facility.
The judges said the State’s evidence satisfied the requirements of law and the prison commissioner’s general management of covid19 in the prisons was proper given what was known of the virus at the time the prisoners filed their lawsuit.
They acknowledged that the virus was constantly changing. The judges also ordered the five prisoners to pay the State’s costs, saying their lawsuit was not in the public’s interest and had the option of taking their complaint to the inspector of prisons or the commissioner himself.
The group, in their application filed in May 2020 before TT’s second wave of covid19, said the matter was a life-and-death situation as their health was at risk. In dismissing their lawsuit, Mohammed held that the court was of the opinion that the commissioner has implanted proper protocols and measures within the prisons which conforms to World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and those from the health ministry.
He said a staff order issued by the commissioner, ensured a safe environment and prevention of infection or spread of covid19 in the prison, therefore, the prisoners could not contend their right to life was being infringed by alleged inaction by the prison authorities.
The prisoners said the minister and commissioner failed to ensure public health covid19 regulations were applicable to the prisons and prisoners and that they failed to protect their right to life and health. In his decision, Mohammed said from the evidence supplied to the court – photographs of the cells at the Maximum Security Prison – showed one was untidy and unkempt, but there was no evidence of other cells being in the same condition.
In dismissing their arguments, the judge ordered attorneys for the prisoners and the State to file arguments on the question and quantification of costs which he will determine without a hearing.
The five prisoners – Dexter Simon, Timothy Mohammed, Lawrence Diaz, Kevin Patrick, and Miguel Esis – were represented by attorneys Farai Hove Masasai, Sallian Holdip-Francis, and Antonya Pierre while Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, Adaam Hosein, Kristal Madhosingh, Kadine Matthews, and Hillary Muddeen represented the commissioner and the Attorney General.