Dame Joan against proposed changes to Immigration Act
Former Court of Appeal President Dame Joan Sawyer does not support proposed amendments to the Immigration Act that would remove the necessity for a decision from the court to deport undocumented migrants, in some cases.
Charging that the existing Immigration Act is ill-equipped to carry out mass deportations of illegal migrants, Attorney General Carl Bethel last week revealed that proposed amendments to the act and a new law would allow officials to deport illegal migrants without court proceedings.
During his contribution to the mid-year budget in the Senate, Bethel said the proposed amendments to the Immigration Act would make it clear that the “minister has a right to order the deportation of any illegal migrant or person who is undocumented and found in The Bahamas without having to get a court order”.
Bethel detailed several other proposals the government is drafting.
Speaking to The Nassau Guardian on the matter, Dame Joan said, “My first reaction was, have we become a nation now where the constitution and the rights of human beings are sidewinded by laws passed by the Parliament of The Bahamas, contrary to the constitution?
“… Once [migrants] are in Bahamian waters and once [immigration takes] them into custody, are they now giving themselves the power of the court? Where does it end?
“[On Saturday], one of the first things that popped up in my devotions is, ‘Woe to them who enact unjust laws’.
“In dealing with human beings, which these immigrants are, I don’t agree that they should be breaking our laws to come here.”
She added that The Bahamas cannot, however, claim to be a civilized nation of laws and act the way it is seeking to act in respect to this matter.
“If we do that, we are worse than they are, because we claim that we are a constitutional democracy; we claim that we are substitute to the rule of law,” Dame Joan said.
“But now we’re having ministers giving themselves powers that normally are only exercised by a court, and there is no independence of a minister; he’s not independent of anybody.
“He is part and parcel of the Cabinet; the same body that makes the decision as to whether or not a person should get citizenship. Isn’t that a clear conflict of interest position?
“If I am making laws to give myself powers, but I’m also the person who decides whether or not you get citizenship, whether you get permanent residency, what am I doing?
“I am legislator, judge and executioner of my own judgment.”
In a statement last week, Rights Bahamas argued that the government’s proposed amendments to the Immigration Act would violate the constitution and vowed to challenge any law that reflects such changes.
Article 19 of the constitution says that any person who is arrested or detained and who is not released “shall be brought without undue delay before a court”.
However, Dame Joan insisted that, even if a court agrees with the government’s proposed ammendments, she would never agree to them.
“I don’t agree with his proposed amendments to the legislation,” she said.
“He could try it, and he may actually persuade a court to agree that he could do it, but I don’t know that I would agree ever, no matter what court agrees with him.
“I think it’s wrong in principle that the person who sits to decide something should also be the person who sits as judge.”
The government’s review of the Immigration Act follows recent court rulings by Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hilton.
In February, Hilton ordered the unconditional release of eight people who had been “unlawfully” detained at the Carmichael Road Detention Centre.
In January, Hilton found that Bahamas-born Jean Rony Jean-Charles, who had been detained by immigration officers last September and sent to Haiti last November, was unlawfully detained and deported.
Since the rulings, the government has ensured that illegal migrants caught entering the country appear before a magistrate.