Lawyer: Vehicle mask exemption must be clarified in T&T

Throughout the pandemic, there were many incidents stemming from a difference in the interpretation of the Public Health Regulations.

From private property debates to people charged with breaching the curfew while still in the confines of their premises.

However, the latest amendment to exempt people from wearing masks in a vehicle occupied by family members can potentially create a similar discrepancy.

Under regulations 5 (b) & (c), the exemption is given once it is occupied “members of the same family.”

However, the family structure is very complex depending on a person’s circumstances. For instance, there are people who may have gotten married but did not change their surname or their permanent residence on their identification card or drivers’ permit.

But then how does someone furnish proof?

The regulation does not say if marriage certificates, bills and payment records need to be kept on hand to avoid a ticket. It also does not say how it will apply to those who may be in a common-law relationship or live-in partners. Suffice to say there is a myriad of circumstances that can present and be difficult to determine if they are family “of the bat” as is said in local parlance.

It’s a problem attorney Martin George also acknowledged arises from the regulation in its current form.

“It really, I think, lends itself to more obfuscation than elucidation in the circumstances without their being any definition whatsoever,” he said.

He said the best option is for the Government to rework the regulation and provide a clearer definition.

In light of this ambiguity TTPS public information officer, ASP Sheridon Hill, admitted that enforcing it will be challenging. However, he said, police will use their discretion to do so.

“It could be challenging for us in different situations but as police officers, we are responsible. We use our discretion, we analyse the information, the evidence that’s presented to us and our decisions are based on that. If we get information that convinces the police officer that is dealing…with the particular situation, they will weigh those factors, take it into consideration and once they are convincing evidence or information– the officers will not prosecute,” he told Guardian Media.

“I can’t guarantee that is going to happen in every situation but our officers, we are intelligent, we are experienced and we will use our discretion and weigh the evidence presented to us before we make a decision to prosecute,” he added.

In the absence of any clarification from the policymakers, George said police should give the benefit of the doubt to the citizens.

“I think the confusion will persist, however, I would expect that those who seek to enforce the law will probably err on the side of caution because, in the case of ambiguity, the doubt must be in favour of the citizen as opposed to the state seeking to impose any penalty or punishment for breach of the law,” he said.

Should a person feel they were wrongly ticketed, Hill said they can seek redress through the court.

“You present your evidence to the court and the court will make a determination. Just like if a police officer gives someone a ticket and they want to challenge the ticket,” he said.

However, George noted the responsibility lies with the state to prove a person’s guilt and not for the person to prove their innocence.

“The State is the one seeking to make the claim or seeking to press a charge, then the burden of proof really is on the state in that circumstance. Of course, nobody wants to go through the process of having to either contest the ticket or have to pay the court to defend one’s self for something as minor as this in the circumstances,” he said.

Guardian Media reached out to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi yesterday for clarification.

However, an explanation wasn’t given up to late yesterday. Acting Commissioner of Police McDonald Jacob could not be reached either.

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