More legal action over controversial prison sentence remission

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The wife and fiancé, respectively, of convicted killers “Gideon Jackson and Bryan Frederik Soerowidjojo” are standing in solidarity with the men who have each filed an application questioning why they are still behind bars.

It is being done under a writ of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum.

In the Writs, filed on the men’s behalf by attorney Charlesworth Tabor, the women, Markiysia Jackson and Shantel Irish, swore in two affidavits that they have no knowledge why the men were re-arrested and jailed after they were granted remission of the time remaining on the prison sentences that they were serving for killing two people in separate matters.

The women are hoping their partners would get a hearing date soon in the cases where they are asking the High Court to order the Superintendent of Prisons to attend court, along with the men, to state “the day and cause of these persons being taken and detained so that the court may then and there examine whether such cause is legal.”

Both women said in their affidavits that all they know at this point is that while in prison their partners were involved in several activities including working with the government’s Home Advancement Programme for the Indigent (HAPI) to build and repair homes for citizens who required help.

They were reportedly told that their partners exhibited good behaviour and this was the reason for them being granted remission by the authorities. The women say they have no idea why their partners were detained and re-imprisoned after they were released.

Irish is said to be in her last trimester carrying the child of the Surinamese killer Soerowidjojo. She had earlier told OBSERVER media that she was able to see and interact with the prisoner when he came out to work on the government programme – something prison authorities have since said was unlawful.

Meanwhile, focusing on the documents before the court, attorney Tabor said while the Minister of Legal Affairs and Justice Steadroy Benjamin acted with legal authority when he granted the remission of the sentences of the applicants, he unlawfully rescinded the decision and caused the men to be returned to jail.

Just as he has argued for Derrick Brady, another prisoner in a similar situation, Tabor said, “We contend that the subsequent revocation by the Minister of Legal Affairs and Justice of the remission was unlawful since he does not have the power so to do under the Laws of Antigua and Barbuda.”

Recounting how the situation got to where it is, Tabor noted that Soerowidjojo was convicted and sent to Her Majesty’s Prison on June 17th 2011 for murdering homeowner Lyndon Browne during a burglary; and Jackson was jailed on July 14th 2016 for killing Dorothy Prince during a robbery at her workplace.

They had pleaded guilty to murder and manslaughter respectively and Soerowidjojo got a sentence of 16 years’ imprisonment while Jackson was sentenced to 12 years.

Like the women, Tabor pointed out that the applicants were model prisoners and – as a result of their good behaviour during incarceration – they were earlier this year considered for and granted remission of the time remaining on their sentences, based on the recommendation of then Superintendent of the Prisons Albert Wade.

The Minister of Legal Affairs and Justice was the one who gave approval to shave off the time from the sentences and the men were released from Her Majesty’s Prison on February 28, 2019 – only to be re-arrested on the March 4, 2019 and returned to the Coronation Road penitentiary.

Tabor acknowledged that as of June 2017, with the passage of the Prison (Amendment) Act 2017, the Minister was given the power to grant remission of a prisoner’s sentence. Prior to that, the power was vested in the Governor General.

However, the law, according to Tabor, does not give anyone the power to revoke/rescind the remission.

Thus, he further contends, “The action of the Minister of Legal Affairs and Justice in revoking a remission granted by him and having the prisoner who obtained that remission arrested and imprisoned, is clearly a violation of the principle of the Separation of Powers since only the Courts (Judiciary) and not the Executive can order the imprisonment of anyone after due process.”

And, the lawyer said this point is clearly underscored by Section 15(1) of the Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda which states: ‘‘If any person is charged with a criminal offence then, unless the charge is withdrawn, he shall be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law.’’

Earlier this month, many residents voiced their disgust over the remissions, arguing that there are many others serving time in jail for less serious crimes and are of good behaviour, yet they were not considered for early release.

The two men in this case were among eight people who were given sentence remissions. Three of them are sex offenders; three were convicted for killing; one is a career thief, particularly of livestock; and the eighth one is a convicted fraudster.

The freedom of five of them was however short-lived because within one day, the remissions granted them were revoked. One sex offender, the thief and the fraudster were not affected.

Tabor said while some folks do not think the men deserved the remission, the fact is that they got it and once that was done, the minister, the prison authorities and everyone preventing their release are in violation of the law which does not provide for revocation of any remission.

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