By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
A SUPREME Court judge has ordered the government to disclose all relevant documents relating to its immigration policy introduced a year ago.
Justice Rhonda Bain, presiding over a judicial review action brought by an alleged victim of the government’s immigration reform policy, ruled that the government has “an obligation to make frank disclosure to the court of the decision making process.”
Her landmark ruling, which the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) described yesterday as “a laudable victory for transparency, accountability and human rights in the Bahamas,” ordered the government to produce in 21 days all relevant documents, including, but not limited to letters, policy papers, internal memoranda, minutes, reports, directives in relation to “the initiatives (that) were implemented on November 1, 2014”.
The respondents in this legal action – Minister of Immigration Fred Mitchell, Minister of Education Jerome Fitzgerald, the Columbus Primary School Board, Minister of Health Dr Perry Gomez and the administrator of the Fleming Street Community Clinic – have until December 2 to comply with the court’s order for disclosure of the documents.
Kayla Green-Smith and Melissa Wright, Crown attorneys for the named respondents, had objected to 21-year-old Widlyne Melidor’s judicial review request on the basis that her circumstances did not fall in the category of “exceptional.”
Melidor has alleged that she was repeatedly denied access to a local clinic and that her son was not allowed to attend school in the Bahamas due to the new immigration policy.
Fred Smith, QC, Dawson Malone and Martin Lundy II represent Melidor and her son in the judicial review.
Melidor seeks judicial review of the Immigration Department’s policy requirement for persons born in the Bahamas to carry identity papers proving their right to reside in the country; and the decision to refuse consideration of her citizenship application until she is able to produce a Haitian passport, special residency or Belonger’s permit.
Melidor is seeking relief in the form of a declaration that the decisions were ultra vires, or without legal authority; a declaration that the minister of immigration is in breach of his duty to determine her citizenship in a timely manner; and orders of certiorari to quash each of the decisions.
She has also requested orders of mandamus: to require the minister of immigration to consider her citizenship application according to law and within a reasonable time; to require the minister of education and the Columbus Primary School Board to register her son, Petroun; and to require the minister of health and the administrator of the Fleming Street Community Clinic to provide access to medical care for herself and her dependents.
At the time of the application, Melidor was 39 weeks pregnant with her fourth child. She has since given birth.
“After considering the facts of the case at hand, the court holds that discovery is necessary to enable the court to resolve the matter justly and fairly,” the judge said on Wednesday. “The respondents have an obligation to make frank disclosure to the court of the decision making process.”
The GBHRA issued a statement yesterday on the court’s ruling.
“For far too long in this country, the inner workings of government have been carried on behind a veil of secrecy, their rationale and ultimate ends remaining obscure,” the group said.
“The time has now come to shed light on what is done in the public’s name and we applaud the court for leading the way in this regard. While praising this ruling as just, fair and in the service of the public interest, we must pause and lament the fact that the government found itself unable to act in an open and humane manner on its own, without the help of the court.”
“In any event, we feel the decision sets a great precedent for future cases and sends a clear message that government business should be conducted neither in the dark, nor in violation of the fundamental rights and protections enshrined in our constitution. We look forward to the government’s prompt and full compliance with the ruling, and expect that a great deal of information will be presented to the court as a result,” the GBHRA said.