Attorney-at-law and former Opposition Senator, Larry Lalla, has expressed concern over statements made about family gatherings during the current lockdown period by the Prime Minister during his press conference, yesterday. He wants Government’s position on the issue clarified.
“The Prime Minister… made statements to the effect that the police has the power under the Public Health Ordinance and the Regulations issued by his government to regulate the public’s conduct in their private residences, to prevent family gatherings, and that there are penalties for persons who run afoul of those ‘provisions’,” Larry Lalla says in a release he issued on the matter.
According to Mr Lalla, the COVID-19 regulations have never been specific on the issue.
“It is interesting that no COVID regulation issued by the government since March last year, up to the one issued following the Prime Minister’s press conference on Thursday, makes mention of family gatherings and its control or prohibition,” he observes.
He says Government must clarify this going forward if the intention is to police these human groupings as well.
“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? To my knowledge nothing has changed in the law,” he argues.
He adds: “The government and the Prime Minister have a corresponding duty to ensure that laws governing citizens’ conduct are in existence and are stated in clear terms, so that our citizens are certain about what conduct is permitted and what conduct is prohibited.
Mr Lalla points to three main areas Government must clarify for citizens before seeking to extend the COVID-19 regulations to cover family gatherings.
(1) 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?
(2) 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 morn a deceased loved one? Can they play music? Can they dance? Can they sing? Can they prepare meals?
(3) What is the penalty that applies to this conduct the Prime Minster seeks to regulate? Is it a fine? If so, how much? Are there presently provisions and systems in place to pay such fines? Is there a jail term?
“These questions must be answered not only for the protection of the public, but also for the protection of the police,” he explains.
“The police cannot and do not act (at least not yet) based upon the direction of the Prime Minster. Their role is to enforce the law, not the directions of the Prime Minister,” Larry Lalla points out.
“They must have clarity as to the conduct they are called upon to regulate, since—if sued for abuse of their power—they must be able to defend their actions by reference to some specific law of the land,” he says.