Test cases in law are a legal academic’s dream. They help to map uncharted legal waters by establishing important legal principles and rights, which, as precedents, would be binding in subsequent cases whose facts are similar. The consolidated test cases of Tomlinson v Belize, Trinidad & Tobago brought by prominent Jamaican attorney and LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex) activist, Mr Maurice Tomlinson, before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) aimed to do just that.
Mr. Tomlinson challenged the consistency of discriminatory provisions contained in the Immigration Acts of the defendant states, Belize and Trinidad & Tobago, which classify homosexuals among the classes of prohibited immigrants. He claimed that the mere existence of those provisions infringed his right of entry as an LGBTI Community national under Article 45 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and the 2007 Heads of Government Conference Decision.
Article XII of the Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice gives the Court exclusive jurisdiction, subject to provisions of the Revised Treaty, in matters concerning the interpretation and application of the Revised Treaty. Freedom of movement of CARICOM nationals has been a sore point in Community relations, with some States claiming that their nationals are routinely discriminated against. The Court rendered its landmark decision on the right of freedom of movement of CARICOM nationals in the case of Myrie v Barbados. The CCJ’s ruling in that case established definitively that CARICOM member states were bound by the 2007 Decision of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM to allow all CARICOM nationals hassle-free entry into their territories and a stay of six months upon arrival. The only exceptions for refusing entry are where the Member State deems a person to be “undesirable person” or where it is believed the Community national seeking entry may become a charge on public funds.
The points of law raised in the instant case are unique as it is the first time that a CARICOM national has challenged the immigration laws of a CARICOM member state on the basis of infringing the right of entry of LGBTI community persons. Mr. Tomlinson also claimed infringement of his right under Article 7 of the Revised Treaty to not be discriminated against on the basis of nationality only and that being a UWI graduate and thus a Skilled CARICOM National, his rights under Article 46 of the Treaty would also be infringed.
The relevant sections from the two Immigration Acts in question are as follows:
Belize Immigration Act (Cap 156):
5.-(1) Subject to section 2 (3), the following persons are prohibited
(e) any prostitute or homosexual or any person who may be living
on or receiving or may have been living on or receiving the
proceeds of prostitution or homosexual behaviour;
Trinidad & Tobago Immigration Act
8. (1) Except as provided in subsection (2), entry into
Trinidad and Tobago of the persons described in this subsection,
other than citizens and, subject to section 7(2), residents, is
(e) prostitutes, homosexuals or persons living on
the earnings of prostitutes or homosexuals, or
persons reasonably suspected as coming to
Trinidad and Tobago for these or any other
As a matter of context for readers outside of the Caribbean, LGBTI rights are still not recognised in Caribbean countries. No one needs to look further than the many archaic and discriminatory laws still found on our statute books, which though not all enforced, still discriminate against members of the LGBTI community and are incongruous to the requirement of legal certainty.
Mr. Tomlinson argued that while he has never been himself denied entry into the defendant member states, the mere existence of the provisions in question were inconsistent with his right of entry as to enter would amount to him being in breach of the law. As such, Mr. Tomlinson not only requested the Court to make declaratory orders declaring his right of entry to these states, but also that the provisions in question violated his right to freedom of movement and his right not to be discriminated against on the basis of nationality only. He also requested the court to order Belize and Trinidad & Tobago to remove homosexuals from the class of prohibited immigrants.
For their part, the defendant states argued, inter alia, that the existence of the provisions in question in their Immigration Acts has not hindered Mr. Tomlinson’s entry into their territories. They also did not deny that Mr. Tomlinson was entitled to entry and stay of up to 6 months. The defendant states also agreed that they did not see Mr. Tomlinson, a homosexual, as an “undesirable person” within the meaning given in the 2007 Conference decision.
The Court agreed that homosexuals cannot be categorised as ‘undesirable persons’ and concluded that homosexual CARICOM nationals have a right to freedom of movement on the same terms as any other CARICOM national. However, in regards to the central issue on whether the mere existence of the challenged statutory provisions constituted a breach of those States’ obligations, the Court had consideration for the state practice in Belize and Trinidad & Tobago. Interestingly, the Court accepted Belize’s interpretation of section 5(1)(e) of its Immigration Act that homosexuals are only prohibited from entering the country in cases where they are engaging in prostitution or benefiting from acts of prostitution performed by others.
Turning to Trinidad & Tobago, the Court found that unlike the Belize provision, the provision in the Trinidad & Tobago Immigration Act expressly prohibited the entry of homosexuals and not solely those seeking to engage in prostitution. The Court, however, accepted Trinidad & Tobago’s evidence of state practice that despite the existence of this discriminatory provision, it is not enforced.
Noting the inconsistency of 8(1)(e) of Trinidad & Tobago’s Immigration Act with the Revised Treaty, the Court, however, made reference to Article 9 of the Revised Treaty which provides that “in the event of any inconsistencies between the provisions of this Act and the operation of any other law, the provisions of this Act [the Revised Treaty] shall prevail to the extent of the inconsistency’. The Court also noted that the state practice of Trinidad & Tobago and Belize does not suggest any incompatibility with the Revised Treaty or the 2007 Conference Decision. The Court held, therefore, that Tomlinson had no valid reason to assume that his rights would not be respected by the States.
However, the Court further emphasised at paragraph 59 of the Judgment that it was not condoning the retention by member states of legislation which conflicts with Community Law and stressed that “[s]tates should ensure that national laws, subsidiary legislation and administrative practices are transparent in their support of the free movement of all CARICOM nationals”. The Court also dismissed Mr. Tomlinson’s claims that his rights under Articles 7 and 46 of the Revised Treaty were infringed.
Although the defendant lost his claim and was denied the requested remedies, this test case achieved two main things. Firstly, the Court stated definitively that “the practice or policy of admitting homosexual nationals from other CARICOM States (not falling under the two exceptions mentioned in the 2007 Conference Decision) is not a matter of discretion but is legally required based on Article 9 of the RTC as this is an appropriate measure within the meaning of that provision”. Therefore, States cannot as a matter of practice deny entry of homosexuals into their territories. It is hoped, however, that member States will move with alacrity to repeal those discriminatory sections of their Immigration Acts, and also give greater importance to bringing their laws into conformity with Community rules.
Secondly, in so doing, the judgment has added to the Court’s growing jurisprudence, including on the contentious issue of freedom of movement.This significance was not lost on the Court. The justices stated at paragraph 65 of the judgment that the case “raised novel questions and has contributed to the clarification and development of Community law”. While litigation may be costly for member states against which claims are brought, the testing of issues of law by Community nationals helps to clarify points of Community law and ensure that member states are held accountable and uphold the rights which they agreed that Community nationals should enjoy.
Recognising the need not to discourage parties from bringing test cases, particularly in the Court’s current stage of development, the Court in its discretion found the current circumstances were “exceptional circumstances” under Part 31.1(3) of its Original Jurisdiction Rules 2015 and so ordered both parties to bear their own costs.
Copies of the summary, entire judgment and the video of the delivery of the judgment are available on the CCJ’s website here.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.