The United Kingdom Privy Council has ruled that the Public Health Regulations imposed in 2020 by the Trinidad and Tobago Government to manage the COVID-19 pandemic were not unconstitutional.
In particular, the Privy Council found that the regulations did not interfere with religious rights.
Trinidadians Dominic Suraj, and four others, as well as Satyand Maharag had brought the appeal but it was dismissed. The Attorney General was the defendant.
The appellants took the case to the Privy Council after they were unsuccessful in their constitutional challenges in the local courts.
The Privy Council found that the Public Health Regulations and Guidelines issued by the Minister of Health were appropriately based on sound medical and expert scientific evidence. It found also that the regulations and guidelines were made in the public interest of protecting the life and health of the population.
The Privy Council said the two appeals which were heard together raised important issues relating to fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.
Surag and others in their appeal had challenged as unconstitutional, the prohibited gatherings of more than five people in any public place without reasonable justification where the gathering was not associated with the provision of certain specified services.
The regulations challenged as being unconstitutional in the appeal of Maharaj, prohibited gatherings of more than ten people in any public place without reasonable justification at religious services or gatherings unless they complied with guidelines for places of worship issued by the Minister of Health.
In both appeals, it was contended that the regulations infringed their rights under the Constitution.
Suraj and others were arrested in April 2020 for breaching the Gatherings Rule but the charges were dismissed in November 2020 for want of prosecution. In June 2020 they launched a constitutional challenge about their arrests but after losing in the local courts, they appealed to the Privy Council.
Maharaj, a Hindu Pundit, saw on social media on March 15, 2020 that the government was implementing restrictions to deal with the pandemic. The restrictions caused his religious activities to be suspended and so he took the issue to court.
The Privy Council, after hearing legal arguments in March, reserved its decision until today when it handed down its ruling, dismissing both appeals.