Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago

There are no regulations governing conduct on private property, especially as it relates to the number of people, masks and social distancing.

The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago yesterday disputed statements by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley about the reach and scope of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service under Public Health Ordinance 1940 and said that using the Ordinance that way would be a breach of constitutional rights.

It could also “easily” lead to an abuse of power.

In a media release yesterday the LATT said that the new Public Health Ordinance does not give police the right to enter private property. In fact, the association said to use the Ordinance in such a manner would be “illegal”.

The LATT contradicted Rowley’s comments about the details of the Ordinance and the reach it gave to police officers over private gatherings.

On Thursday when Rowley announced new restrictions he sought to curb gatherings in private homes in a bid to reduce the massive spikes in Coronavirus cases over the past three days.

However, the LATT, Senior Counsel Martin Daly and attorney Larry Lalla raised concern about the PM stating that the Public Ordinance gave the police authority to enter homes.

“Yesterday (Thursday) and with all due respect, without making a reasonable link between the conduct of citizens on private property and the rise in numbers, the Honourable Prime Minister seemed to refer to the intended engagement of purported powers under the Public Health Ordinance 1940,” the LATT said.

“The Law Association is of the view that this is simply wrong, “ the law body said.

According to the LATT, the Ordinance permits entry on private property only for particular purposes such as inspection and doing sanitary work and similar actions.

“The clear intention of the legislation is to allow authorities to enter ‘infected’ premises to inspect, sanitise and do whatever else may be necessary,” the LATT said.

“The Ordinance also seems to circumscribe this power by suggesting its exercise must be endorsed by a Magistrate,” it said.

It added, “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. “

“Indeed, it is likely that in light of our constitutional protections, no regulations can be made to regulate conduct on private property,” the LATT said.

The LATT urged all citizens to act responsibly in the drive to reduce spiralling COVID-19 numbers.

Senior Counsel Martin Daly also spoke out about the matter.

In a statement to Guardian Media, he 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 criminalize conduct.”

Attorney Larry Lalla, hours before the LATT media release, took to social media to share his thoughts on the matter and that later was coalesced into a comprehensive statement about the overreach of power.

In a strongly-worded statement, Lalla said that Rowley did a “grave disservice” to the people of T&T.

Lalla said that the PM needed to provide clarity on two matters:

“Precisely what law gives the police the power to enter private residential properties to break up family gatherings? Tell us what Act and what section of the Act does so?

Exactly what conduct is regulated by this “law”? What types of gatherings are prohibited? How many persons are allowed to gather? How must they be related? Can they gather to pray? To mourn a deceased loved one? Can they play music? Can they dance? Can they sing? Can they prepare meals?” he aske.

Lalla said as a democratic state, the passage of laws follows a process.

“We are no(as yet in any event), a dictatorship where laws can be passed by edict or press conference,”’ he said.

“In that circumstance, one has to ask the question what has changed in the law since the Bayside apartment complex incident in April of 2020 when the police admitted that there was no law in existence that allowed them to enter onto private property and to prevent gatherings taking place there?,” he asked.

Lalla said to the best of his knowledge there have been no changes to now treat citizens differently.