AG’s office says ‘police can’t force citizens to stay home’

The Office of the Attorney General has stated that recent public health regulations do not affect citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of movement and that the T&T Police Service (TTPS) can not arrest persons for failing to abide by the Government’s call for citizens to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

State attorney Michelle Benjamin, acting on behalf of the Office of the Chief State Solicitor, made the statements yesterday in a response letter to a threat of a lawsuit issued by political and social activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj, on Tuesday.

Benjamin said: “Although it is self-evidently in the public interest for all social interactions to be restricted at this time in the interest of achieving what has become well-known as ‘flattening the curve’ or slowing down the rate of infection of COVID-19 and which informed the COVID Regulations, it is accepted that there is no legal restriction upon members of the public from movement outside of the proscriptions provided in the COVID Regulations.”

“Indeed as you accept in your letter, the police may use moral suasion to appeal to the individual social responsibility of citizens to maintain isolation as much as possible in order to continue to flatten the curve,” she added.

Stating the TTPS members had received legal advice over the scope and application of the regulations, Benjamin claimed that they (the police) were advised to persuade persons to return to their homes and that they could only arrest citizens in cases when they are in breach of the regulation, prohibiting gatherings of five and more persons in public.

As Benjamin maintained that Maharaj did not have a valid case to pursue, she claimed that the police had not infringed his or other citizens’ rights during their enforcement of the regulations.

“A cursory public excursion will demonstrate that there is no wide-scale police restriction in T&T. There is traffic on the streets, and groceries and other permitted businesses have had to voluntarily implement crowd management strategies in order to reduce the potential spread of infection at their crowded business places,” Benjamin said.

She noted that the regulations had to be amended several times to reduce opening hours of essential businesses and to deem restaurants non-essential based on citizens exercising their rights to ignore the advice to stay at home.

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