DEREK ACHONG

The Court of Appeal has rejected two legal challenges against ongoing public health regulations to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a judgement handed down this morning, Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Appellate Judges Mira Dean-Armorer and James Aboud dismissed an appeal brought by five men who were arrested at Alicia’s Guest House on April 9, last year, and charged under the regulations for gathering in a group of more than five.

The appeal panel essentially upheld former High Court Judge Ronnie Boodoosingh, who ruled that the regulations passed under the colonial-age Public Health Ordinance (PHO) were not unconstitutional, before being elevated to the Court of Appeal.

In the same judgement, the panel upheld a counter appeal brought by the Office of the Attorney General over Boodoosingh’s connected decision to allow Pundit Satyanand Maharaj’s challenge over criminal penalties being imposed for breach of the regulations and guidelines related to places of worship.

Dean-Armorer, who wrote the judgement, said the panel felt that the regulations were sufficiently clear.

“Where the Guidelines were not specific, religious leaders may draw on professional advice, in most instances available from among the faithful in their congregations or in their communities,” Dean-Armorer said.

In the overall challenge against the regulations, Dean-Armorer ruled it was protected by the constitutional savings clause, which insulates colonial legislation from review except by Parliament.

“Notwithstanding the wide powers conferred by section 105, to restrict and to encroach on fundamental rights, the PHO is guarded from declarations of unconstitutionality by the saving law provision. It continues to be valid until removed by the will of the people in Parliament,” she said.

She also rejected claims that the regulations infringed the separation of powers, as they were set by the Minister of Health and not Parliament.

She noted that Parliament is allowed to delegate subsidiary legislation, such as the regulations.

“The PHO is not a statute which has reclined dormant for decades and which simply hides behind the saving law provision. This is a statue to which Parliament has been alive and which, nonetheless, has withstood the test of time,” Dean-Armorer said.

The first case was brought by Dominic Suraj, Marlon Hinds, Christopher Wilson, Bruce Bowen, and Collin Ramjohn.

All except Ramjohn claimed to have been doing charity work by cooking a meal for a group of Venezuelan friends, who were in need.

Ramjohn, a fishman, claimed he went to collect money for a car he rented to a friend, who works at the establishment.

The charges against all five men have since been dismissed after repeated delays in prosecuting them.

The claimants were represented by Anand Ramlogan SC, Reunka Rambhajan, Douglas Bayley, Jared Jagroo, Che Dindial, Ganesh Saroop, and Vishaal Siewsaran.

Reginald Armour SC, Rishi Dass, Raphael Ajodhia, Svetlana Dass, Savi Ramhit, Diane Katwaroo, and Lianne Thomas represented the State.