IN SPITE of Government’s decision to once again allow bars to open until 10 p.m. from tomorrow, a legal claim filed against the State last week by 316 bar owners and the Barkeepers and Operators Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BOATT) will proceed in court.
Senior Counsel Anand Ramlogan, who leads the case for the bar owners and the association, told the Sunday Express yesterday that even though this part of the claim had been achieved, it did not mean other aspects of the case would be withdrawn.
During a brief telephone interview, Ramlogan said his clients were still seeking a declaration from the High Court that the decision of Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh to previously reduce the opening hours of bars from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m., by way of the Public Health Regulations was illegal, irrational and unreasonable.
In addition to that, they are seeking to obtain damages, including vindicatory damages, for breach of their constitutional rights, as well as their legal costs in bringing the court action.
“That (the latest decision) does not mean that the case is over because they are still entitled to their damages and so on,” said Ramlogan.
The court action was filed electronically last Thursday afternoon at the San Fernando High Court, more than one week after Ramlogan, along with attorneys Ganesh Saroop, Douglas Bayley and Renuka Rambhajan, issued pre-action protocol letters to Deyalsingh and National Security Minister Stuart Young, but received no response.
Just three hours after the application was filed, Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams granted permission to the bar owners and the association to file their claim for judicial review. That claim comes up for hearing tomorrow afternoon.
On June 22, the Government allowed bars to re-open on a daily basis until 10 p.m., after being closed for nearly three months in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But just one week later, the opening time was reduced by two hours to 8 p.m., following complaints some bar owners were operating in violation of the health regulations.
Ramlogan and the other attorneys said the decision to reduce the opening hours was “inherently discriminatory” and in breach of their clients’ rights to equality of treatment under Section 4 (d) of the Constitution.
They stated in the pre-action letters that a number of other establishments that serve alcohol as part of their overall business arrangements were being allowed to open up to 10 p.m. “While bars are forced to shut their doors at 8 p.m., establishments which operate a restaurant and bar have not been subjected to a similar measure.
“Thus, places like Trotters, Zanzibar, Chaud, Aioli, Waterfront Restaurant at the Hyatt Hotel, CrewsInn Restaurant, TGI Fridays, Jaxx International Grill, Woodford Cafe, etc, are allowed to open until 10 p.m.
The attorneys added, it should be noted that the bar areas in many of those establishments were separate and distinct from the restaurant section and hence the bars are, in reality, being allowed to open until 10 p.m.
As such, they said there was no justification for the difference in treatment.
“The enforced premature closure is, therefore, in effect, a form of artificial socio-economic engineering by the Government as it is forcing and re-channeling our clients’ customers into the restaurants and bars which are owned by big businesses, as compared to the average man/woman who owns and operates a small bar.
“Many of these establishments are in fact owned by the ‘one per cent economic elite’ and it is a repeat of an economically distorted policy that previously saw the closure of doubles and corn soup vendors while places like Starbucks and KFC were allowed to flourish,” they stated.