BERMUDA: Jamaican prisoner wins landmark case

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A Jamaican prisoner, who claimed his constitutional rights were infringed because he was not allowed to apply for parole after serving a third of his sentence, has won a landmark victory in the Bermuda Supreme Court .

Leighton Griffiths was convicted in 2007 of importing 480 grammes of cocaine that was hidden inside an air compressor.

He was initially sentenced to 14 years in prison, but this was later reduced to 12 years by the Court of Appeal.

Earlier this year, Griffiths, who is married to a Bermudian, launched legal action because, as a foreign national, he was denied the opportunity to be released on licence. This after serving a third of his sentence, even though he was otherwise qualified for such early release.

Griffiths claimed that the provisions of the Prison Act 1979, which set down the rules surrounding prisoners' access to parole, breached Section 12, which prevents discrimination on the ground of place of origin, of the Bermuda Constitution.

In a written judgment, released at the end of last week, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley ruled in favour of Griffiths, saying his constitutional rights had been infringed.

"The provisions of the Prisons Act 1979 relating to parole as applied to the applicant as a Jamaican national, who presently has no opportunity to apply for any form of early release, discriminate against him on the grounds of his place of origin, in contravention of his rights under section 12 of the Bermuda Constitution," Chief Justice Kawaley said.

Bermudians, and people with an unrestricted right to reside and work in Bermuda, are able to apply for release on licence in Bermuda after serving a third of their sentence. Nationals originating in some countries, including the United Kingdom, are also able to obtain an early release on licence because their governments have agreed to supervise them on their return to their countries of origin. However, Jamaica has not agreed to accept prisoners released on licence.

As a result Griffiths was required to remain in prison for twice as long as those prisoners who were able to obtain parole.