No further legal action is expected from Skylar Mack and Vanjae Ramgeet, the couple who made international headlines after being sent to prison for their respective roles in a quarantine breach, according to attorney Jonathon Hughes.
“We’re not exploring any further avenues of appeal,” Hughes told the Compass Tuesday afternoon, after the Court of Appeal reduced their respective sentences from four months to two months in jail.
“In reality, a two-month sentence means that both individuals will have to serve roughly five weeks in prison. That’s 60% of the total. That’s how our law works. They both already served one week. So we’re expecting Skylar and VJ both to be out roughly in four weeks, somewhere around the 20th of January.”
The Court of Appeal was the third court to hear the case.
Mack and Ramgeet were originally ordered to perform 40 hours of community service and pay $2,600 each by the Summary Court after Mack, an 18-year-old visitor from the United States, was arrested for violating quarantine regulations.
Mack was charged after removing her government-issued geo-fencing bracelet, a tracking device required to be worn by each person entering Cayman as part of the country’s quarantine-at-home programme. After removing the bracelet, Mack left the Newlands residence in which she was staying to watch her partner, 24-year-old Ramgeet, participate in a jet ski racing event.
Ramgeet was charged with aiding and abetting Mack after having picked her up from the residence and taking her to the event, where they both interacted with several members of the public for at least seven hours without wearing masks or practicing social distancing, according to court records.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions appealed that sentence and Grand Court Judge Justice Roger Chapple last week increased the sentence to four months imprisonment before the Court of Appeal ruled 22 Dec. to cut that sentence to two months. The court also ordered that Mack cannot re-enter the country as long as the borders remain closed.
Hughes says he and his clients were grateful the appeals court heard the matter at all as it was not due back until April.
“Of course, we’re happy with that,” Hughes said. “For Ms. Mack, in particular, difficult for her because she’s going back to Fairbanks Prison for another couple of weeks. But this is what the legal process is for.”
Mack and Ramgeet were the first two people charged under a recent amendment that increased the penalty for breaking quarantine.
“We understand the background of this case, what the Cayman Islands have been through and the seriousness of what Ms. Mack and Mr. Ramgeet did and have accepted doing. They’ve never tried to run away from this,” Hughes said.
Appearing for Mack and Ramgeet before the appeal judges on 22 Dec., was Ben Tonner, who was instructed by Hughes.
Tonner told the court there were two primary grounds for appeal, the first being that the Grand Court judge was wrong to have intervened in the Summary Court Magistrate’s decision, and that the judge had improperly allowed himself to be influenced by public anger and frustration.
During his submissions, Tonner directed the appeal judges to paragraph 53 of Chapple’s written judgment which reads, “It should not be forgotten that these courts pass sentence on behalf of the public. It is fundamental importance that the public have faith in the courts. The anger frustration and fury of the public at selfish behaviour such as this, which could bring COVID-19 back to these islands after all the sacrifices and progress that has be made, is a feeling which is palpable and should be properly be reflected in the sentence of the court.”
“It was perfectly proper for the learned judge to acknowledged that there are strong feelings in the public, but it was wrong for the learned judge to succumb to those feelings at the expense of the reasoned principles of sentencing; which is set out carefully in the alternative sentencing law,” said Tonner.
Hughes said that anger and frustration led to his clients his receiving a more stringent penalty than those who commit offences that carry similar maximum sentences.
“The prosecution was of the view that the message they were sending was that no sentence short of imprisonment was appropriate to send a message in cases such as this,” Hughes said.
“If you look at other offences that carry a two-year maximum sentence… somebody of previous good character – who’s young and who pleads guilty – ordinarily does not go to prison.”
Another point raised by Tonner was that Chapple did not take into account additional evidence such as letters of apology written by both defendants following the Summary Court sentencing.
Greg Walcolm, who represented the Crown during Tuesday’s proceedings, also agreed that the judge should have considered the additional material. However, he added that the sentence imposed by the Justice Chapple was appropriate, as it re-enforced the principle of deterrence.
When asked by the Compass if he felt the sentence was fair, Hughes declined to answer the question directly.
“Three courts have looked at this, they’ve come up with three different answers,” he said. “It is a very difficult exercise and it is a case that has very split opinion – I would say right down the middle. If I were to express my view on fairness, that would be just my view. Ultimately, the courts are there to determine that.”
(Kevin Morales contributed to this report)