PNP wants state of emergency in COVID-19 fight
People’s National Party (PNP) Shadow Minister for Justice, Senator Donna Scott-Mottley, is urging the Andrew Holness administration to declare a state of emergency to ensure that it is not in breach of the Constitution in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19).
With the government instituting several orders under the Disaster Risk Management Act to, among other things, ban public gatherings while restricting movement in areas placed under quarantine, questions have arisen as to whether it is trampling on the human rights of Jamaicans. Against that background, Scott-Mottley said there must be a united effort to protect all Jamaicans at this time.
“The PNP is of the view that a declaration of a state of emergency in the current circumstances is one which will ensure that the clear signal is sent that the Constitution is supreme,” Scott-Mottley stated in a statement on Monday.
She added that: “For the avoidance of any doubt, the Government should cause the Governor General, His Excellency Sir Patrick Allen, to issue the appropriate proclamation under Section 20 of the Constitution which gives him the authority to so do, if he is satisfied ‘that a period of public disaster has arisen as a result of the occurrence of any earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire, outbreak of pestilence, outbreak of infections, disease or other calamity, whether similar to the foregoing or not”.
“The PNP stands ready to support the Government in the measures being taken to combat this deadly disease but they must be anchored within the ambit of our legal provisions. There should be no ambiguity in our efforts to combat the COVID-19 crisis and the rights and freedom of our people,” said the leader of Opposition Business in the Senate.
Continuing, Scott-Mottley said: “This crisis which we face as a nation is unprecedented. It is a time when the entire country should come together in recognition of our humanity and vulnerability. We continue to urge all Jamaicans to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and family and follow the advice issued by of the health authorities. We are all in this together”.
In the meantime, two legal experts have expressed opposing views over whether the Holness administration has violated the constitutional rights of Jamaicans with its roll-out of restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19. Constitutional lawyer, Lloyd Barnett thinks so, while former Solicitor General, Michael Hylton, does not.
Barnett has argued that the announced restrictions have not been promulgated in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. However, Hylton has countered by stating that Section 14 of the Constitution permits the State to detain people in some circumstances in order to prevent the spread of contagious diseases.
“That is another situation where the Government can implement restrictive steps without declaring a state of public disaster or emergency,” Hylton said in a letter to a newspaper.