Update on the Constitutional Challenge to Homophobic Colonial-Era Laws in Jamaica

For more than eight years, Maurice Tomlinson and the HIV Legal Network have been in court fighting for rights that are denied to LGBTQ+ people living in Jamaica due to colonial-era laws that criminalize same-sex intimacy. Through this slow process, Maurice’s case has nonetheless been gaining momentum, and in recent years we have seen similar laws struck down in other Caribbean countries, including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and St. Kitts and Nevis.

This is why, though disappointing, we are not discouraged by a recent Jamaican Court of Appeal decision that further delays justice for LGBTQ+ people living in Jamaica. You can read more about the decision here.

The decision rendered by the Court means that Maurice’s case will be split into two so that a preliminary matter of law can be heard before proceeding with the constitutional challenge. This is a reversal of a decision made by Jamaican courts in January 2022, and it will delay the eventual striking down of the laws in Jamaica that criminalize same-sex intimacy. Maurice recently did interviews with the Jamaica Gleaner and also 76 crimes that speak to the rising costs we will now incur as the result of this decision.

These are clearly stalling tactics by Jamaican government lawyers, supported by nine religious organizations who have standing in this case. We can now fully see how far the Jamaican government will go to delay justice for thousands of LGBTQ+ people living in Jamaica, and thousands of other Jamaican people who have sought refuge in other countries, including Canada.

The reality is that this decision means that the costs have doubled for Maurice to achieve justice for himself and so many others, at a time when the increased cost of living is making life tough for everyone.   

In breaking news, the Chief Justice of Jamaica has decided to hear the case management conference himself on Monday, April 24. We hope this is a sign that the next steps of Maurice’s case will proceed swiftly without further delay.

The HIV Legal Network will stand with Maurice until justice is achieved in Jamaica for LGBTQ+ people living in the country and abroad. We also await notice of a decision in our legal challenge in Dominica, heard in September 2022, and any necessary next steps that need to be taken in that country. As we have seen recently in Uganda and the United States, legislators that choose to oppress LGBTQ+ people will not hesitate to double-down on criminalization and persecution as tools at their disposal. We are in a perilous time for human rights, and we applaud Maurice’s bravery in this current climate.

This is not the lead up to Pride Month 2023 we had hoped for, but we are focused on what must be done to ensure that human rights for all are realized — they are certainly within reach. We will keep you posted as things unfold and remain ever grateful for your support as we press on. As always, we are so grateful for any support you have provide — and are once again “passing the Caribbean can.”