The High Court in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has ordered a temporary stay of execution of the order of deportation that the Serious Offences Court granted, last Thursday, for British lawyer, Juanita Headley.
Justice Nicola Byer granted the order, on Tuesday, based on an application by Headley’s lawyers, Maia Eustace and Jomo Thomas.
However, Headley might have been deported ahead of the high court order, on Tuesday, had immigration officials not taken her to the airport some four minutes after the flight closed.
On Thursday, Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne had granted an application by Senior Immigration Officer, Veronica Harry for a removal order for Headley.
Headley, an author and anti-human trafficking activist had defied an immigration order to leave the country by May 25.
Headley, a U.S.-registered lawyer, had been in SVG since August 2020, when she was initially granted a six-month stay.
She was later granted three one-month extensions and applied for residency, which was denied.
However, on May 17, immigration officials denied her a fourth extension, and ordered her to leave the jurisdiction by May 25.
On Tuesday, Eustace told iWitness News that under section 14 and regulation 14 of the immigration laws, filing a notice of appeal of the immigration officer to deem Headley a prohibited immigrant triggers a stay of enforcement of any removal order.
She said that when that was filed on Monday, the Immigration department should have ceased its attempts to remove Headley from the country.
The lawyer said that Headley filed a notice of appeal, but when her legal team attempted to file it at the magistrate’s court, the officers there indicated that they were not comfortable lodging the document because they are not familiar with it.
“I pointed them to [the law] because even if they are not familiar with it, it is law and the law is pretty clear that you are supposed to lodge it once received.”
The lawyer noted that Headley only had seven days in which to file the document, but the magistrate’s court “declined to accept it for filing, in contravention of the act”.
Eustace told iWitness News that Headley’s legal team then had to try to file the document at the High Court, which would only receive such an appeal after a magistrate dismissed it and Headley wanted to appeal the magistrate’s decision.
“So this was not supposed to go to the High Court yet. So, the High Court stamped it, no problem, but that was after four o’clock [on Monday] when they stamped it.
“So, not wanting the clock to run out on the business day, we took the unsigned but nonetheless executed notice of appeal over to the immigration office along with a covering letter. Do you know [at] Immigration, no one there wanted to sign for the letter regarding Juanita Headley?
“Even when the member of my staff explained to them that this contains a notice of appeal and that there are legal implications, they did not want to receive it. So she had to drop the letter on the desk and walk away.”
Eustace said that after she got the letter stamped by the High Court, she drove to the airport and delivered it to the immigration officer there so that they could have notice of the notice of appeal.
“So, imagine my shock when this (Tuesday) morning, notwithstanding what the Act says, they are taking Juanita Headley to the airport.”
She said that on Monday, Headley had said that the Immigration Department had informed her that they were going to fly her out the following day.
“… she had seven days to file the appeal, so they ought not to have attempted to move anyone when they have a right to appeal and they don’t know whether the person would invoke that right,” Eustace told iWitness News.
“Seven days is still not up and still they were attempting to take her out of the country so that’s why I rushed to file the notice of appeal, even though the time had not run out.”
Eustace said that Headley telephoned her when she was being taken to the airport on Tuesday.
The lawyer said she spoke to an immigration officer accompanying Headley and the officer appeared not to know about the notice of appeal.
“But I forgot what reference I made which came from the letter and she knew about it, so they read the letter and received the notice.”
The lawyer said she pointed out to the immigration officer that Section 14 of the law prevented her from enforcing the removal order.
“She (the immigration officer) told me that she is operating under instructions. I said, ‘You are a creature of statute, you operate under law’,” Eustace said.
“As luck would have it, or as God will have it, they were four minutes late for the flight, so they flight was closed, they could not get her on the 9:40 a.m. flight”
The lawyer said that once they knew that the flight had been missed, the legal team filed a notice of injunction on an emergency basis and Justice Byer granted the injunction.
“The court agreed that there was sufficient urgency to this and they granted the injunction and we applied without notice to the Immigration Department or to the Attorney General’s Office. The order was granted and the court further ordered that the inter-party hearing … take place on July 20”
Eustace told iWitness News that the lawyers then served the injunction on the Immigration Department and the Attorney General’s Chambers.
“So, per the order of the High Court granted today (Tuesday), Juanita Headley cannot be removed from the country, pending her appeal, which is exactly what the notice of appeal accomplishes. So, to have to go to this extra step is really, really ridiculous.”
Headley was, as of today (Wednesday) still being held in custody at the Questelles Police Station.
Eustace, however, said that the law says that as a notice of appeal has been delivered to the immigration officer, Headley has a right to elect to be released from custody and to be given a temporary permit for no longer than 60 days, providing that she had a surety.
The lawyer said that the legal team will be dealing with this in due course.
“But if she doesn’t do that and [if she does not] present a surety, what will happen is that she will continue in detention until the appeal,” Eustace explained.
By letter on Tuesday, the lawyer indicated that Headley was invoking that right, and the legal team requested to know the amount of any bond that the surety had to enter into and the amount of the security Headley has to give in support of the appeal.
“That is even more pressing. That has to be paid before the seven days expire, otherwise the appeal will be void.”
The lawyer noted that this is dependent on the Immigration Department giving the information.
“So I may very well have to go to court.”
Asked why her client is so intent on remaining in SVG, Eustace, said:
“That’s a question for Juanita. My concern is that if she is to be deported that the authorities must do so within the dictates of the law. It must be done within the procedure laid down in the Immigration Restriction Act. That is my concern and that is my brief.
“So if she is to be deported, she must be deported fairly and lawfully. They must have the right grounds in deeming her a prohibited immigrant and they must go through the appeal procedure, which she has invoked. That’s what I am concerned about…
“It was absolutely in contravention of the act that they attempted to remove Juanita Headley from the country today. We filed the injunction and we expect due process, we expect the chief immigration officer, who is a creature of statute, will abide by that statute and nothing else.”