All the locals and foreigners who were charged for breaching COVID-19 public health regulations by gathering at a guest house in St Ann’s, in April, have been freed.
While the charge against five locals and six Venezuelan nationals was dismissed, almost two weeks ago, Venezuelan national Yosmairy Yohely Durate Vallanias was still facing a trial as she was charged separately.
During a virtual hearing on Monday, police prosecutors requested an adjournment of the trial for a prosecutor from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to be appointed because of the public interest in the case.
Vallanias’ lawyer Seana Baboolal objected as she pointed out that the court only had to determine whether the elements of the offence had been made out against her client and not the public interest issue of having the case prosecuted.
Magistrate Sarah De Silva also challenged the position and requested that police prosecutors provide a legal precedent for such a move.
“This issue is not novel or new to this matter as many persons came before the court for breach of COVID-19 public health regulations,” De Silva said.
When Vallanias’s case came up for hearing, yesterday afternoon, police prosecutors failed to identify the legal precedent and again requested an adjournment.
The request was denied by De Silva, who suggested that they commence the case with the evidence of the three witnesses that were present.
After police prosecutors repeatedly resisted the move, De Silva dismissed the charge as she noted that she was required to deal with cases expeditiously under the Criminal Procedure Rules.
She also noted police prosecutors had been previously advised to prepare to prosecute the case themselves in the event their move to delay the case failed.
A similar application was rejected by De Silva, when Bruce Bowen, Christopher Wilson, Dominic Suraj, Collin Ramjohn, Marlon Hinds, and six Venezuelan women, who were arrested alongside Vallanias, were freed almost two weeks ago.
According to the reports, the group was arrested at Alicia’s Guest House at Coblentz Avenue in St Ann’s, after a team of officers led by Police Commissioner Gary Griffith executed a search warrant on April 10.
At the time, breaches under the regulations carried a maximum penalty of a $50,000 fine and up to six months in prison, if convicted.
The maximum fine has since been increased to $250,000 through subsequent amendments to the regulations.
While their case was still pending, the local men also brought a separate lawsuit challenging the overall legality of the regulations.
Their case was heard by former High Court Judge and current Appellate Judge Ronnie Boodoosingh, together with a lawsuit brought by pundit Satyanand Maharaj over aspects of the regulations, which deal with places of worship.
The group’s case was dismissed by Boodoosingh in September, but Maharaj’s was partly upheld.
Boodoosingh ruled that the regulations did not provide enough details on how the offences should be applied to places of worship.
In a press release issued after the group was freed by De Silva, Griffith indicated that the T&T Police Service (TTPS) would appeal.
However, contacted yesterday, Baboolal, who also represented the other Venezuelan women, indicated that she was never served with a notice of appeal.
Baboolal noted that her clients were not concerned about the potential appeal as they always maintained that they were never in breach of the regulations.
“They are not afraid of an appeal because, from discussions with their lawyers, they understand that they have not done anything wrong,” Baboolal said.
She noted that her clients were severely prejudiced by comments on the raid before the case went to court.
The locals were represented by Renuka Rambhajan.