Legal minds split on public, private property debate
Two Tobago lawyers share opposing views on the trending discussion on the legality of police officers entering private property to enforce Public Health (2019) Novel Coronavirus Regulations.
The heated public conversation is taking place as the police stand accused of classism after it warned partygoers at a Bayshore Towers but took stiffer action against others at a St James party.
Under COVID-19 regulations, groups of more than five are banned.
Weighing in on the topic, Senior Counsel Christo Gift said the regulations are toothless and require a constitutional amendment to give them power.
Speaking with Guardian Media, Gift said:” You can’t just have an ordinary piece of legislation by amendment and have a regulation that somehow intrudes upon your constitutional rights without the requisite constitutional majority.”
The SC said he shares Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith’s “cautious” stance.
Griffith told reporters at a news conference the situation was “sticky.”
“They( the police) are backing into an area of constitutionality that does not permit the regulations to have teeth. It is ok when people are on the road but when you go onto private property, it is different. The Commissioner is right to have concerns.”
The SC added: “The suggestion that police can enter your private property, without a warrant is limited. It can be done if it is perceived that persons on the property are in fear of their lives. You can’t enter private properties for not wearing masks or people are in a party.”
But Martin George shared an opposing view with reporters via a Whatsapp video message.
He cited two judgments by Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh as the basis of his argument.
“ We must understand that in times of uncertainty and pandemic, there will be certain curtailment on the rights and freedoms of citizens for the greater good.”
He added: “ This (Justice Boodoosingh’s judgment) is a practical commonsense approach… When one looks at it (regulations) as a whole, it seems fairly clear that there is the general authority to enter into premises.”
He said a similar situation already occurs as persons from the Public Health Department’s Vector Control Unit enter private properties to do inspections “for the public good.”
“ When you look at what constitutes a public space…and it may be somewhere even on private property where members of the public can gain access to either by invitation or otherwise. You have to look at it from that perspective and, you can’t just take the very strict, literal interpretation,” George said.
By: Camille McEachnie