(CMR) Three Court of Appeal Judges today decided to reduce the sentence of quarantine breachers Skylar Mack and Vanjae “VJ” Ramgeet by two months. Instead of serving four months in prison, they will be serving two months.
The three-panel judges acknowledged the difficulty any judge would have had in hearing this case. The Rt. Honourable Sir John Goldring, The Honourable Sir Richard Field and the Rt. Honourable Sir Alan Moses all heard the appeal during a special sitting of the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal on Tuesday morning.
The pair arrived for court shortly after 10:00 a.m. wth Skylar being brought in a bit later:
Notice of appeal was given last week after Justice Chapple rendered his decision on Tuesday morning sending the pair to prison for a quarantine breach incident that occurred on November 29.
CMR was the first media house to report on the breach on Sunday evening after receiving exclusive details of what transpired that day.
Legal arguments began at 10:00 a.m. in courtroom 5 with Ben Tonner, QC leading the appellants' case. He indicated he had recently been brought onto the matter but moved arguments forward that Justice Roger Chapple had erred in this decision to give the pair a custodial sentence.
His 152-page bundle had already been submitted to the three-judge panel for them to review before oral arguments. They indicated they had done so and welcomed him to focus on the key points he wished to address.
He noted that their position was that the original decision of Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez in Summary Court should be restored. In the alternative. he welcomed the judges to impose their own sentence given their powers to do so.
Early on the judges made it clear that they were not of the view that this was a minor offense and one noted that “what she was doing wasn't very serious, that wouldn't be very good mitigation”.
Tonner argued that Magistrate Hernandez would have been more equipped to deal with quarantine breaches because the lower court had been hearing them since the lockdown went into effect in late March. He made reference to the Canadian couple who had gotten away with a mere fine. However, the point was made that the law had since changed to reflect the serious nature of the offense.
Two central points that were brought to the court's attention were that the learned Judge erred when he placed too much weight on the public outcry that had ensued as a result of the breach. Attorneys argued that should not have been a consideration and the judges appeared to agree with them indicated that it would amount to “mob rule” if the courts were minded to generally take that approach.
The judges appeared to be favorable to these arguments and queried about the importance of gauging public temperature in cases. One noted:
“can it ever be appropriate for a sentence to be structure to reflect anger, frustration and outcry of the public?”
Tonner responded that it was proper to acknowledge them but wrong to succumb to them as reasons for sentencing and that it was wrong for judges to refer to public opinion. He concluded that Judge Chapple misdirected himself in that regard.
Another point of legal contention was that new material provided to Justice Chapple was not fully considered. For example, Magistrate Hernandez had indicated to the parties that they should write a public apology which was then given to the media. Judge Chapple did not appear to take that into consideration when making his ruling.
Tonner submitted that Justice Chapple approached the sentencing hearing in a different manner than Magistrate Hernandez.
There were also some late submissions from her university indicating that she would unduly be penalized by her university because if she was not able to attend classes at the beginning of her February session she may have to sit out an entire year. Her classes are done in a particular order for the pre-med program that she is currently enrolled in.
Tonner spoke primarily of Mack's fate and the judge inquired if he also represented Ramgeet which he confirmed that he had. The judges appeared to be of the view that Ramgeet may have held less culpability than Mack in the circumstances – a clear divergence from the position of the lower court. Magistrate Hernandez had actually penalized Ramgeet more by giving him two months of house arrest in addition to the community service – sharing that as a local who had endured the lockdown he should have most certainly known better.
The prosecution took a brief break to confirm if the judge had indeed refused to accept any new material in making his decision. Crown counsel Greg Walcolm represented the Crown's position during the hearing.
Upon leaving the courthouse Skylar Mack could be seen crying and visibly upset that she would still be spending the holidays in prison in the Cayman Islands.
The judges did not provide a written reason for their decision at this early stage. In the Cayman Islands, penal system inmates are expected to serve 60% of their sentence.
The pair were removed by the prison van to continue serving their sentences: