No regulations are in place that give police officers the authority to enter a person’s private property with regard to the number of people present, the non-wearing of masks and social distancing.
So stressed the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) yesterday as citizens began questioning whether police had the power to enter their homes under the new Covid-19 restrictions.
The Public Health Regulations only allows entry into “infected” premises for the purposes of inspection and to carry out sanitisation works, LATT said.
Therefore, the statement made by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Thursday that “the police will be able to tell you what to do at home”, and that officers were allowed to enter private spaces if they were of the opinion that “what is going on in that private space is detrimental to the public interest”, was simply wrong, the association said yesterday.
Also commenting on the issue yesterday was senior counsel Martin Daly who said: “Any statement giving the police encouragement to believe that they have some general right to enter private property ‘in the public interest’ because there is a public health crisis is a matter for great concern. There is also a limit on how far regulations can go in an attempt to criminalise conduct.”
In its news release in response to the Prime Minister’s statements, LATT said it was of the view there must be clarity in the dissemination of information by the Government to the public, particularly during this pandemic.
The clear intention of the legislation, it said, was to allow authorities to enter infected premises “to inspect and sanitise and do whatever else may be necessary”.
“The ordinance also seems to circumscribe this power by suggesting its exercise must be endorsed by a magistrate,” and therefore, no issue of enforcement on private property arises, it added.
The LATT release went on to state that over the past year or so, the public has received and has had to absorb new Public Health Regulations followed by a series of amendments.
“For the most part, despite changes in their day to day lives, it appears that the population has done a good job of compliance.
“Indeed, there has been no indication of cases involving breaches of the regulations flooding the courts,” LATT pointed out.
The association said it was aware the reported numbers of infected persons have increased over a fairly short period of time and while it shared the concerns of the Prime Minister about rising numbers, it expressed its own concern about the opacity of his most recent statements.
“Indeed, it is likely that in light of our constitutional protections, no regulations can be made to regulate conduct on private property. The association is of the view that to use the ordinance in these circumstances to permit entry to private property will be illegal.
“It opens the door too easily to an abuse of power and breaches of constitutional rights. The militarised face of the TTPS, which is the one which regrettably we have come to know over the past few years, is not one to be shown to children in their homes and safe spaces and citizens who have been traumatised at multiple levels by this pandemic.
“We urge citizens to act responsibly to ensure that the advancement of this virus is slowed and eventually stopped,” stated the release.
In a release last night in response to LATT, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith pointed to Section 133 of the Public Health Ordinance which clearly states that the police have such authority as stated by the Prime Minister.
However, Griffith said, “The TTPS are not minded or guided to enter private homes to regulate family or small gatherings. The guidance remains where a gathering is considered a mass gathering , inclusive of payment thereby transforming the private space, into a public space.”