AG responds to critics on laws to address the COVID-19 pandemic

AG responds to critics on laws to address the COVID-19 pandemic

Saturday, March 28, 2020

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ATTORNEY General Marlene Malahoo Forte has responded to concerns that the Government may not have acted within the law in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are monitoring and managing a crisis that is unprecedented. I see the debate raging in the public space about the constitutionality of the measures that we have taken. Be assured that debate is also taking place internally within the Government. For every action we have taken, especially as those actions relate to the rights of our people, they are limited to containing the spread of this contagious disease and they are also limited in time,” the attorney general said yesterday while speaking at a digital press briefing held at Jamaica House, yesterday.

“...So let the debates rage, but be assured that those of us who are here in Government have to take actions in real time to deal with issues that are unfolding before us. We don't have the luxury of sitting down and getting into niceties, but we must carefully consider what we are doing, and be assured that is what we have done,” she added.

She also justified the Government's decision to activate provisions under varying legislation, with the 2015 Disaster Risk Management Act being one such.

“We have opted to utilise the Disaster Risk Management Act and that is because this is a multi-sectoral crisis that we are facing and we took the view that it required a multi-sectoral approach and, at this time, the 2015 Disaster Risk Management Act is the newest provision we have on our law books that enables us to deploy all of Government's resources in addressing the issue,” she pointed out.

The Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights (IJCHR) earlier this week questioned whether the Government was on the right side of the law in the measures used to deal with the pandemic.

According to IJCHR's head and constitutional attorney, Dr Lloyd Barnett, the Government “ignored” steps outlined in the Charter of Rights on how to safeguard individual rights while responding to a public health emergency.

“The Government can start with a declaration, which states that there is an emergency period of 14 days, and then go to Parliament and extend it for upwards of three months at a time. And each of those extensions require two-thirds majority of both houses of Parliament,” he told theJamaica Observer,adding “that has been ignored, and they have just made regulations under statute. Nothing is wrong with having statutory provisions, but every statutory provision is subject to the constitution.”

The IJCHR, at the time, pointed specifically to already implemented and pending Government restrictions on the fundamental rights of the individual to freedom of the person, freedom of movement and freedom of association, saying some of these measures “are of dubious constitutional validity”.

— Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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