A 56-year-old Jamaican woman was on Wednesday awarded GUY$3.1 million (around $14,000) by Guyana’s acting Chief Justice as compensation for being unlawfully detained in the South American country for eight months.
According to Loop Caribbean News, the Jamaican national, identified as Sandra Russell, was detained in prison for the said duration by the Guyana Police Force though she had been freed after serving time for a narcotics conviction.
The lawsuit against the state was filed by attorney Darren Wade on the grounds that Russell’s fundamental human rights to freedom had been breached as a result of her unlawful detainment.
The attorney had initially demanded GUY$10 million ($47M) for each day Russell was illegally detained and more than GUY$20 million for the harsh treatment she experienced behind bars. Wade had also demanded an additional GUY$50 million for false imprisonment and GUY$20 million for violating her freedom of movement.
While in detention, Russell said she experienced depression and stress as a result of poor prison conditions. She claimed ventilation was bad and she was also made to sleep on the station’s concrete floors with a thin mattress.
The Jamaican national received an 8-month prison sentence and a GUY$135,000 fine in 2018 after she was arrested for cannabis possession, Loop Caribbean News reported. She was, however, released four and a half months earlier after her sentence was reduced. Russell was then handed over to a female Immigration Officer.
And though the next line of action was to deport Russell to her home country of Jamaica, she was held at the East La Penitence Police Station for eight months before her eventual bail release in July 2019.
During the trial, attorneys for the state called on the court to dismiss the suit on the grounds that the Jamaican Consulate in Guyana had failed to establish if Russell was indeed a citizen of the Caribbean nation. The attorneys argued that became a setback in facilitating her deportation.
The state’s attorneys also cited the Immigration Act as the basis for detaining Russell and argued she was classified as a “prohibited immigrant” while her identity was trying to be established. In her ruling, however, acting Chief Justice Roxane George 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,” Justice George added.
Justice George also said that the Immigration Act allows people to be kept in custody for a period of three months to allow for the establishment of a tribunal. Per the details of the judgment, Russell is supposed to receive GUY$2.5 million as compensatory damages and GUY$600,000 for the deplorable prison conditions she was made to endure while she was unlawfully detained. Justice George also ordered the state to pay GUY$250,000 in costs.
Russell was also ordered to make the necessary arrangements to leave Guyana within the earliest possible time. “Since the applicant is not a citizen of Guyana and has clearly overstayed her time, unless some accommodation is granted by the State, she must leave. This should not be at the expense of the State. As such, unless she can stand the expenses of her return to her home country, which such expense is to be deducted from the award,” Justice George said.