State to pay Jamaican woman $3.1M for wrongful detention
The State has been ordered to pay $3.1M to a 56-year-old Jamaican national who claimed she was wrongfully detained for eight months at the East La Penitence Police Station shortly after being released from prison for serving a sentence for trafficking narcotics.
The judgment was handed down in favour of Sandra Russell on Wednesday by Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George.
Attorney Darren Wade had filed the multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the State for breach of Russell’s fundamental rights to freedom after being unlawfully imprisoned by members of the Guyana Police Force.
In 2018, the woman was sentenced to eight months in prison and fined G$135,000 by Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan for the possession of 70 grams of cannabis.
The Jamaican national had her sentence reduced to three and a half months and served her time at the New Amsterdam Prison, however, on November 10, 2018, Russell was released into the custody of a female Immigration Officer who told her that she would be deported to her homeland. That never happened and she was kept in custody at the East La Penitence Police Station; after eight months there, on July 7, 2019, she was released on $10,000 bail.
The State had asked the court to dismiss the application claiming that the Jamaican Consulate in Guyana could not ascertain Russell’s identity and links to Jamaica which prompted further investigations since her deportation was now complicated.
To support its claims, the State had argued that Russell was kept in custody according to the Immigration Act and was considered a “prohibited immigrant” while an investigation was being conducted on her identity.
The Chief Justice, in her ruling said, “the State must do better as regards to facilities for the incarceration of persons. The claim of so-called third world status cannot be permitted as a continual excuse for poor conditions and cannot be countenance as being the best the State can do.”
The CJ said that according to the Immigration Act, the applicant should have been kept in custody for three months while a tribunal was done. As such, Russell was awarded $2.5M for compensatory damages along with G$600,000 for being subjected to poor conditions while being wrongfully detained.
The State will also to pay G$250,000 in cost. Lastly, the CJ ordered that Russell leaves Guyana soonest and pay her own travel expenses.