THE NEW legal notice on the Public Health Ordinance has made changes to regulations regarding places of worship, likely in a response to a recent court ruling.
The ruling was made on Friday by Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh on two constitutional claims which challenged the validity of the coronavirus public health regulations.
Before him were two separate claims – one brought by Pundit Satyanand Maharaj and another by five men – Dominic Suraj, Marlon Hinds, Christopher Wilson, Bruce Bowen and Collin Ramjohn – who were arrested at Alicia’s Guest House in St Ann’s at an alleged covid19 party on April 9. They were later charged with breaching the regulations. These were the first cases to test the covid19 regulations.
In his decision, Boodoosingh held that the regulations made by the minister were permissible under the public health ordinance.
However, Boodoosingh said, “Making the breach of the Ministry of Health guidelines a criminal offence, in my view, is outside of the ambit of the powers given to the minister under the (Public Health) Ordinance.
“This amounts to the minister authorising regulations which criminalise conduct which, in several instances, are uncertain and vague or expressed as non-mandatory practices. Such a provision is not a valid or legitimate exercise of the powers under the ordinance.”
Legal notice 316 Section 4(5) stated a religious or ecclesiastical organisation or any other religious organisation may conduct various religious where the gathering of persons at any place used for that purpose does not exceed ten persons and the organisation comply with the guidelines for places of worship issued by the Ministry of Health. The new legal notice, however, removes the requirement to comply with the guidelines.
The legal notice also included a new Section 15 which states: "The Minister of Health may, for the purpose of the operation of these regulations issue such guidelines as he may deem necessary and breach of such guidelines shall not constitute an offence."
The legal notice also referred to Schedule 3 on the capacity of public transportation vehicles in accordance with the Prime Minister's announcement on Saturday that seating capacity would be increased from 50 per cent to about 65 per cent.
Schedule 3 states: "Public transportation vehicles may be allowed to transport only as many passengers as can be afforded window-seating, in accordance with the size and make of the vehicle. This guideline therefore would preclude the occupation of any middle-seat spaces in any vehicle with seating extending across the width of the passenger cabin.
"In all instances, passengers are to be required to wear face-coverings (preferably masks) for the duration of their journey; and windows are to be kept fully opened, as far as practicable, to allow for optimal circulation of air through the vehicle."