Tuesday 24 November, 2020

Young on stay-at-home challenge: It's the first attention seeker

National Security Minister Stuart Young has chuckled at a legal challenge to the Government's stay-at-home order, implemented to prevent the rampant spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Young was responding to a question at the Ministry of Health's daily media conference to address COVID-19 on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, attorneys at law SC Anand Ramlogan, Renuka Rambhajan and Douglas Bayley sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Solicitor General on behalf of political activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj. The letter signalled Maharaj's intent to challenge the police's authority to "enforce" the government's measures.

According to the pre-action letter, Maharaj was told by police to return to his rented apartment in Palmiste on three occasions. Beginning on April 7, he was stopped in a roadblock on his way to deliver lunch to a friend, the second encounter occurred while he was on his way to visit his girlfriend and the third to go to an ATM and gas station.

His attorneys contend that police have no lawful authority to question members of the public on why they are outside since there is no law that has been passed to govern that practice. Bayley added that officers were operating under the misapprehension that they were entitled to demand that persons return home if they were not satisfied that the reason for the journey was "essential".

Seemingly unbothered by the looming threat of legal action, Young explained that the Attorney General had already responded to the letter. He added that the move was expected. 

“I smile because three days ago in my daily briefing with the heads of security I said, let’s see who is the first attention seeker to jump out of the box,” Young said.

“The Attorney General has already responded to that preaction letter. I am certain his response is well-grounded in law. Personally, I see no chance of success on the constitutional argument for the reasons that I’ve laid out. These roadblocks are not being conducted on the basis of stay-at-home orders. The police have powers of persuasion, they can tell all of us stop drinking, for example, if they think we’ve consumed enough. We could continue to drink after that and then there are other legal implications, therein. Everyone is free to approach the courts as they would like," he added. 

Meanwhile, Bayley sent a subsequent letter to the Solicitor General on Wednesday, in response to AG Faris Al-Rawi. He noted Al-Rawi's admission that "... there is no legal restriction upon members of the public from movement outside of the proscriptions provided in the COVID Regulations" which he said served as vindication for his client.

The attorney also cited numerous articles which quoted the AG, the Police Commissioner and National Security Minister, all of whom he claimed gave the impression that the public had no choice but to comply with the stay-at-home order or else they could be charged for committing an offence. He also quoted Minister Young's mention of a $50,000 fine or six-month jail sentence.

He said the state must accept that citizens are free to reject that "suasion" and insist that they proceed past the roadblock and continue with their journey. 

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