Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has issued a statement following the criticism he has received from legal minds, regarding his announcement on Thursday of the enforcement of public health regulations on private properties by police.
The Law Association has deemed such an act as illegal, but Dr Rowley said the laws of our country…cover the enforcement and management of laws in private premises via public health officers with or without aid of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
Here is the full statement:
As Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago I am duty-bound to caution citizens that unrestrained conduct in public and private settings can and will push the rise of COVID-19 cases.
I have observed statements and criticisms from certain quarters which in my opinion unfortunately and with little use for the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic seek to nit-pick my general statements of caution.
As Prime Minister I respect and support the Constitution, the rule of law and due process and I am insistent that law enforcement must act within the confines of the law.
I am also duty-bound to point out that the laws of our country, including the Public Health Ordinance, the Public Health Regulations, the Police Service Act and other laws can, in certain specific circumstances, cover the enforcement and management of laws in private premises via public health officers with or without aid of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service.
Section 133 of the Public Health Ordinance for example states:
“133. For the purposes of this Part of this Ordinance, any person authorized to act under the provisions hereof or of any regulations made in pursuance of any authority contained in this Part of this Ordinance may at any time, with or without assistance—
(a) enter on lands and buildings and inspect and examine the same and all things thereon or therein;
(b) do on any land or in any building any sanitary or other work authorised or directed;
(c) generally do, with respect to persons, places, land, building, animals, or things, whatever is necessary or expedient in order to carry out the foregoing provisions of this Part of this Ordinance, or any direction or requirement given or arising thereunder. ”
It is well known that activities on private properties are abundant and of concern.
Other jurisdictions have implemented States of Emergencies where constitutional rights are suspended and go as far as limiting the number of persons permitted in private settings as well as the nature and type of activities permitted on private properties.
Trinidad and Tobago has obviously not done the same but has instead successfully utilized other measures to manage the pandemic which have thus far resulted in a hard-fought balance between saving lives and livelihoods.
These are exceptional times and I genuinely and deeply commiserate with those in our beloved country who have to shoulder the burden of temporary restrictions and measures.
For those of us who are directly affected, words are of little comfort and this is why the Government has expended billions in financial support which it cannot sustain indefinitely.
We are striving to save lives until the relief of vaccines can give us herd immunity.
We have pushed at every manufacturer and supplier of vaccines and have pending orders submitted across multiple sources. Our vaccination drive has started and is continuing. We have not used unapproved experimental vaccines on our population and are in the same position as our brothers and sisters in the region leading the CARICOM fight for vaccine equality and distribution.
This pandemic will come to an end and the temporary restrictions and hardships will fade away.
I am deeply conscious of the need for survival in every sense of the word.
As Prime Minister I must take the advice of our medical experts and balance all interests. I must ensure that death sentences are not read to thousands by a failure to act and take hard and sometimes unpleasant decisions.
For the next three weeks I am asking the population to limit their movement as best as is possible, including undertaking the task of cooking at home whilst restaurants and bars are temporarily closed.
I respect the roles and views of stakeholder bodies but encourage them to support the general call for compliance and to resist from taking a general and correct statement about the law out of context.
Ultimately our courts will function as the arbiters of any law and its enforcement.
For my part I encourage that the letter of the law be applied and upheld within the spirit of the law.
Let us all see the forest and not just the single tree.