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Israel Khan SC

Two prominent attorneys are agreeing with Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith’s argument that it will be very difficult for police to criminally enforce the public health regulations on people who are in private residences.

The topic has been in the public domain since last week, after the members of the T&T Police Service failed to charge anyone involved in a poolside party at the Bayside Towers in Cocorite. After public criticism over this, including a call from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to apply the law equitably to all citizens, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith said the law was vague as it applied to officers’ jurisdiction in people’s private properties,

Yesterday, Senior Counsels Israel Khan and Martin Daly held both the same and differing views on how aspects of the issue should be dealt with.

“I am personally of the view that these people should be arrested, but I am of the view that they cannot be arrested,” Khan said about the Bayside Towers pool party.

“You cannot really invade private residences without having a warrant that you suspect a criminal offence has been committed.”

Daly agreed with this perspective.

“I have no doubt that the police cannot just storm into exclusively private property on the basis that it’s just some offence against the public health regulations is being committed.”

However, Daly said people have to be careful in their interpretations of the term exclusively private property, as the interpretation depends on certain circumstances.

“We need to be very careful. If we say, well, they didn’t shut down this party, but they shut down that party. We have to be careful to distinguish the circumstances in which people went into a party,” he said.

Saying he used the term exclusively private intentionally, Daly said, for instance, if people use their private property to have a pay fete or to otherwise do anything to suggest the public has access, that can turn a private space into a public space.

However, in the instance of the Bayside pool party, Daly said it appeared those in attendance were either residents or friends of a resident, meaning it was likely interpreted as a private residence.

According to both attorneys, if the Government wishes to enforce the regulations on private residences, the ordinances will have to be taken to Parliament.

Khan urged the Government to do this, saying that the ongoing debate on the issue is very problematic and could easily be blown out of proportion.

However, Khan said it was unfortunate that Police Commissioner, a member of the National Security Council, had become involved in a public spat with the Prime Minister over the issue.

“Just take the thing to Parliament and enact the law. It’s very simple like that…Every sensible person in this country would realise that they must have law where they could make arrests for people who were doing what those people did,” Khan said.

But Daly said there’s something that concerns him more than the legalities of the issues – the social impact of policing.

He said the incident in which young people found bathing in Sea Lots were put to lie down on the ground and humiliated had made a certain mental impression on people.

“Therefore, when other people appear to be doing something similar and they appear to be in better circumstance, whether by colour, shade or income, it creates a very unfortunate impression, and you see that is why I believe that the language that is being used by people in high-office needs to be more tempered,” Daly said.

He claimed the chickens are coming home to roost with the previous usage of intemperate language about cockroaches.

Daly added, “We cannot go on with the feeling that one section of the society is cockroaches and one section of the society is privileged.”

Khan also warned of signs of a growing social divide, saying, “All they need in this country, they don’t need guns again, you know. They just need a box of matches, you know. So it’s a very volatile situation.”

Also commenting on the spat between the Prime Minister and Commissioner of Police, former Chief of Defence Staff, Retired Major General Ralph Brown, accused Griffith of disrespecting the Office of the Prime Minister.

Claiming that Griffith’s behaviour was unbecoming of a military officer and Commissioner of Police, Brown said he believed Griffith should have sought an audience with the Prime Minister instead of going public with his concerns.

“Commissioner Griffith needs to rethink his position on this and other issues which have not gone unnoticed. If not, he should tender his resignation immediately,” Brown said. — Joshua Seemungal