As the country settles down to the first of a two-week stay at home order by the government, Senior Counsel Israel Khan is calling for the declaration of a state of emergency.
In a letter, Khan urged the Prime Minister “to declare a state of emergency for a short period of three months and, if necessary, further three-month periods until the virus is no longer a threat to our lives in TT.”
He advised Dr Rowley “to stop pussy-footing” with the lives of citizens, noting the different rules and regulations government is implementing including the prohibition of gatherings and shutdown of non-essential services.
On Tuesday, National Security Minister Stuart Young announced revised restrictions on gatherings to a maximum of five instead of ten.
“You can dress up the laws as much as you want, but any legal mind worth their salt knows that you cannot temporarily suspend a citizen’s constitutional rights without declaring a state of emergency,” Khan wrote.
“Any law to restrict persons gathering together deprives a citizen of their constitutional right to freedom of movement and assembly. Any law that requires businesses to close infringes a person’s right to enjoyment of property as this right includes the right to carry out a legal enterprise.
“All around the world, governments have taken the appropriate legal step to limit their citizens’ rights and have done so by due process. Yet you have been ‘holding your hand’ for some reason, even saying (although as a joke) you will ‘slap down people.’
“If you want to ‘slap down the people’ then slap the SoE on them, it does seem that the country’s waiting on that hard clout. But you keep playing the reluctant godfather.”
Khan said he along with his staff at his law chambers have been self-isolating because it is the proper thing to do. For others who are not listening, he advised, “Slap the SoE on them. It is better we get a hard slap than a fatal hit.”
He told Rowley this is not the time for electioneering, but rather a time to save lives. And, if the harsh and necessary decisions are not taken, “many of us could die.”
One very important aspect of this dire situation which must be examined is that of remand prisoners, Khan said.
“It is already cruel and unusual punishment to have a man who is presumed to be innocent locked up for more than seven years in atrocious conditions with more than ten persons in a cell. A thorough review of their bail conditions must be done.” He said some should be allowed to sign their own bonds and be released from custody immediately.
“The high courts and magistrates’ courts have already been indefinitely suspended which means that while this virus is still a threat, these remand prisoners will be there for even longer.”
He acknowledged that the prisoners must first be examined and cleared as carriers of the virus, and those tested positive must be quarantined.