A major legal showdown is looming over Government’s controversial decision to fingerprint Barbadians using the island’s ports of entry.
The Barbados Bar Association has said it was not convinced that the decision was constitutionally sound and it has pledged to join with, and support, any action started in the High Court by fellow attorney David Comissiong and or anyone else challenging the constitutionality of the regulations.
So concerned is the Bar about the implications of the new security measure scheduled to take effect from April 1, that it adopted a resolution during a special general conference last Monday to write Prime Minister Stuart requesting a meeting to discuss it. “The Bar Association shall write to the Hon. Freundel Stuart, QC, Prime Minister of Barbados in his capacity as Minister responsible for Immigration, Defence and Security to request a meeting to discuss the constitutionality of the Immigration (Biometrics) Regulations 2015,” the resolution stated.
The grouping of legal professionals also decided to take the contentious fingerprinting plan by Immigration authorities to the public.
“The Bar shall inform the public by way of newspaper publications and radio programmes of the legal ramifications of the Immigration (Biometrics) Regulations 2015,” added the resolution, a copy of which was obtained by Barbados TODAY.
Apart from the proposed fingerprinting, the Immigration Department announced last month that it would also introduce facial scanning of passengers later this year. The only exemptions will be holders of diplomatic passports and children younger than 16 years old.
The department said the move was in keeping with the Immigration (Biometrics) Regulation 2015 and would bring Barbados in line with global ports of entry.
Comissiong has threatened to sue former Chief Immigration Officer Erine Griffith and Minister Responsible for Immigration Senator Darcy Boyce over the stated policy after the two failed to respond to his letters of February 18, 2016 seeking an explanation for the decision. Griffith has retired since announcing the controversial measure. Opposition Leader Mia Mottley also slammed Government on the issue in Parliament earlier this week. But when Prime Minister Stuart took to the floor yesterday afternoon during debate on the Appropriation Bill 2016, he told the Lower House the move was to protect the integrity of the island’s passport, which is highly respected around the world. “The Barbados passport ranks at number one in the English speaking Caribbean . . . according to international indices in the English speaking Caribbean. If you bring Latin America in, the only three countries in Latin America whose passports rank higher than the passport of Barbados are Chile, Brazil and Argentina.
“Globally out of all the countries out there, nearly 200 of them, the Barbados passport in terms of its credibility, ranks at number 21. That is what we are trying to protect,” Stuart said.
The Prime Minister did not indicate which index he was quoting, but the information was consistent with that obtained from Passport Index, which scores passports based on the number of visa free countries that the passport holders can visit without a visa, or they can obtain a visa on arrival. While Passport Index ranks the Barbados passport at number 21 (joint with Andorra) with a score of 122, there are 48 countries listed above it.
However, a new index by the British immigration and citizenship firm Henley & Partners places the Barbados passport at number 26, with 49 countries ahead of it.
During yesterday’s presentation, Stuart noted that the immigration department has had a number of challenges with people re-entering Barbados under a different identity after being deported.
“And you may only know that they are back here if they get into trouble or if you have to deal with them in some other context again and then the process of detection may take place. That’s the problem of the countries from which they’ve come. But here in Barbados now . . . in recent times we’ve been having problems with birth certificates, we’ve been having problems with ID cards, and we’ve been having problems with changes of name, and we’ve been having problems with passports,” Stuart added. (EJ)