Man awaiting deportation freed
A Ugandan national awaiting deportation has been released from custody following a court hearing.
While the Governor had called for Billy Odoch to be remanded until he can be deported, Puisne Judge Stephen Hellman found that the Governor failed to give a suitable reason for the detention.
“This does not necessarily preclude the Governor from reconsidering the reasons for his detention,” the judge said. “That is possibly an argument for another day.”
Odoch was jailed in 2015 after pleading guilty to charges of obtaining a United Kingdom passport by deception and using a false Bermuda passport.
At the time, the court heard that Odoch had 23 aliases in the UK. He originally appeared in court answering to the name Alfred Alva Thompson with prosecutors unsure about his actual identity, only that he was not Mr Thompson.
They explained that only one Mr Thompson with that name living in Bermuda and he had never travelled abroad or applied for a passport.
He later pleaded guilty to the two offences, giving his name as Billy Odoch, and was sentenced to spend two years in prison.
The court heard that he was released from custody early this year and applied for asylum on the grounds that he had a “well-founded fear” that he would be persecuted upon his return to Uganda.
Because Bermuda is not a signatory to the UN Refugee convention, the application had to be made to the British Foreign Commonwealth Office through Government House for their consideration.
However on May 26, Governor John Rankin signed an order that Odoch be detained until he can be deported in the interest of the public good. He was subsequently arrested earlier this month, with the court hearing that his deportation had been delayed by his refusal to sign an application for a Ugandan passport.
In a hearing sparked by a writ of habeas corpus, lawyer Kamel Worrell argued that the detention of Odoch was unconstitutional on the grounds that the reasons before the court for the decision was insufficient. He noted that Odoch had not committed any offences since his release from prison and had been in regular contact with the Department of Immigration.
Mr Worrell also said that the deportation should be stayed until his client’s request for asylum can be considered, although that argument would have to be brought before the court through a separate judicial review application.
Delivering his judgment, Mr Justice Hellman said that while the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Act does empower the Governor to have a person detained until deportation, the law does not state that such a detention is mandatory. And he stated that if a detention was to be made, an appropriate reason must be given for it to be constitutional, and that the only reasoning in evidence for the detention was that Odoch had been convicted of a criminal offence.
“The difficulty is that that reason, under the wording of the statute, fits the deportation of a person but doesn’t on the face of it constitute a valid reason for that person to be detained,” he said. “You cannot punish someone twice for the same offence.”
He noted reasons that could have been presented, including that Odoch may “go to ground” to avoid deportation or commit further offences, but said the reason listed could not be considered reasonable.
Given the circumstances he ordered that Odoch be released from custody, although he said that there was no reason the Governor could not make another application and any application to stay Odoch’s deportation would require a separate application and hearing.
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