The State has requested time to respond to a lawsuit from the owner of a liquor mart, who is challenging a decision by police officers to advise him to close his business under ongoing COVID-19 pandemic regulations.
The request was made as the judicial review case brought by Goutam Singh, of Singh’s Liquor Mart located along Bournes Road in St James, came up for hearing before Justice Kevin Ramcharan yesterday morning.
After the hearing, which was held via video conferencing under the Judiciary’s current practice directions to curtail the spread of the virus, the case was adjourned to next Monday.
According to Singh’s lawyers Gerald Ramdeen and Umesh Maharaj, Singh was approached by police officers on Wednesday morning and was advised that he had to close his business or he will be prosecuted under The Public Health Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) (No 8) Regulations 2020, which were published, via a legal notice, on Monday.
An offence under the legislation carries a maximum penalty of a $50,000 fine and six months in prison.
In his court filings, Singh’s lawyers are contending that while the sub-regulation 3(3) prevents holders of a spirit retailer licence, wine retailer licence, restaurant licence or wine merchant’s licence from opening their premises for the duration of the regulations, it does not cover holders of a spirit grocer’s licence such as Singh.
“The Intended Respondent has no lawful authority to charge persons for carrying on the business of a liquor mart who are conducting business pursuant to a spirit grocer’s licence,” Singh’s lawyers said, in his application for judicial review.
They suggested that the forced closure was illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional.
They also noted that their client had been adhering to social distancing guidelines being enforced at supermarkets and pharmacies, which have been allowed to open.
Through the lawsuit, Singh is seeking a series of declarations against the State, compensation for his loss of business due to the closure and an injunction restraining the police or other State officers from blocking him from operating his business while regulations remain in place, at least until April 30.
Speaking at a press conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, on Monday morning, National Security Minister Stuart Young said that the regulations would be amended to block liquor marts from opening as they were not considered by the Government to be essential services.
Young advised that citizens could continue to purchase alcohol, to be consumed at home, from supermarkets.
Singh is also being represented by Dayadai Harripaul, while Reginald Armour, SC, and Vanessa Gopaul are representing the Office of the Attorney General.