Convicted murderers challenge prison transfer to UK

Request to be returned to Cayman

Northward Prison File photo.

A Grand Court judge has heard arguments on behalf of convicted murderers Osbourne Douglas and Justin Ramoon, who are challenging their transfer four years ago from Cayman’s Northward prison to a maximum-security jail in the UK.

Douglas and Ramoon, who are brothers, are serving 30 and 33 years, respectively, for the 2015 gang-related shooting of Jason Powery. They were transferred from HMP Northward to HMP Belmarsh in 2017, after being deemed a security risk.

At the time, they sought permission for a judicial review to challenge the transfer. That was eventually granted in 2018 and finally heard in Cayman’s Grand Court on Monday, 26 April 2021.

In their civil suit, Douglas and Ramoon named the governor and the director of prisons as respondents.

Douglas and Ramoon: ‘Our rights are being infringed’

The brothers claim the decision to transfer them to Belmarsh, in London, where they have no family or friends, was unlawful, and breaches their constitutionally protected human rights, specifically Section 9 (1) of the Bill of Rights which speaks to the right to private and family life.

In the writ, attorneys for the brothers say, “The Applicant[s] [are] now detained thousands of miles away from [their] family. Since [their] transfer [they have] not had any visits from [their] family nor [have they] been permitted to make calls to the Cayman Islands. For obvious reasons it will not be practicable to receive regular visits from [their] family in the future.”

Justin Ramoon during a court visit to the scene of Jason Powery’s murder outside the Globe Bar, in April 2016. He and his brother found guilty of murder.

The brothers are calling on the courts to declare the transfer illegal, and to quash it so that they can be transferred back to Grand Cayman to serve the remainder of their sentences.

When replying to the two men’s claims, government attorneys warned Justice Michael Wood against finding in favour of them as it could breach the principal of separation of powers, as well as create unintended implications for Cayman’s prison services and the wider United Kingdom and its Overseas Territories.

One prison system, multiple jurisdictions

Paul Bowen, QC, who represents the respondents, told Justice Wood that, although Cayman and the UK are separate jurisdictions with two distinct prison services, they are “inextricably linked” by the Colonial Prisoners Removal Act 1884 to form one prison system that spans across the United Kingdom.

“Prisoner transfers can’t be equated with an extradition… it is a transfer within a single prison system, albeit one with a different constitutional system,” said Bowen.

He said under this one broad system, the most dangerous criminals were transferred from the then-colonies, now Overseas Territories, to the UK as it was not feasible for each OT to build its own category A prison. He said proof of this was that in the last 10 years, only three prisoners have been transferred from Cayman to the UK.

“These are two convicted prisoners, convicted of a murder described as a public execution of the most chilling kind, as noted by the trial judge,” said Bowen.

Douglas and Ramoon were both gang leaders, who were facilitating the importation of drugs, automatic weapons and hitmen from Jamaica, he said.

He told the court that days before their transfer, a prison escape plan involving the men had been discovered.

Bowen said the decision to transfer a prisoner depended on the governing body of each jurisdiction and, in the case of the Cayman Islands, that was the ultimate responsibility of the governor who is tasked with the islands’ security.

Bowen added that, by law, if the prisoners wish to return, the proper course dictates that they apply to the governor first.

Osbourne Douglas is present during a crime scene walkthrough held during his criminal trial in 2016. – Photo: James Whittaker

“It is open at any time for the plaintiffs to make submissions to the governor to invite him to exercise his discretion under section 3, and to put any evidence before the governor that they consider is relevant to that decision,” said Bowen, who added that neither Douglas nor Ramoon has made any such applications.

“If you accept the blandishments of [the applicants] and trespass onto the territory of the decisionmaker, not only do you risk your own decision being overturned, but in doing so, you trespass on the proper territory of the executive in breach of the separation of powers,” Bowen told Justice Wood.

He added, “Any treatment that this court gives to this issue is not going to only have implications for the Cayman Islands, because the 1884 Act applies in all the Overseas Territories and may have unforeseen implications for the other Overseas Territories, which the court should be careful not to create.”

When turning his attention to the argument of whether the transfer had violated Douglas and Ramoon’s human rights by depriving them of the chance to see their family, specifically their children, Bowen said the case law shows in cases of serious crimes, no such consideration needs to be given because neither man was a primary caregiver.

“Harm to the bond between a parent and a child is regrettable but is inevitable as a result of committing serious offences,” said Bowen.

He added, “The case law shows that the consequences are entirely, entirely, the responsibility of the convicted prisoner.”

Douglas was represented by Laurence Aiolfi, while Ramoon was represented by Prathna Bodden. Both men were also represented by Hugh Southey, QC.

A decision on the judicial review is expected to be returned in the coming months.

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