QC says emergency regulations prevent access to legal representation

QC says emergency regulations prevent access to legal representation
Damian Gomez

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Attorney Damian Gomez, QC, yesterday echoed concerns over the government’s Emergency Powers (COVID-19) order, and its damaging impact.

“The things that they’ve done are questionable and to the extent that they have caused damages to different people and persons can sure,” Gomez told Eyewitness News.

“It may well be that the government has inadequate explanation, but it’s difficult to see what that is in some incidences”.

The Emergency Powers (COVID-19) Order, 2020, include a nightly curfew and shutdown of all non-essential businesses and organizations, public transportation and commercial sailing; and all events, parties or gatherings.

Gomez said from a legal perspective, the regulations have in effect “prevented accused persons from having access to lawyers, because we have been forbidden from rendering any service to the public because we are not within the excepted class”.

Last week, the judiciary expanded its coronavirus mitigation protocols to suspend all jury trials for nearly three weeks.

Chief Justice Brian Moree announced that court operations will be restricted to essential services required for the proper functioning of the judiciary.

Countries around the world have implemented strict curfews and stay at home orders to manage the spread of the virus, including over 40 percent of U.S. States.

But Gomez insisted that Article 29 of the Constitution only gives the government the power to do that which is necessary for the purpose of dealing with the emergency.

“It is unclear how is it barristers or persons who operate as counsel, are offering their services to criminally accused person, are somehow to be exposed to criminal liability for $10,000,” he charged.

“It doesn’t seem to me to be anything more than the government attempting to prevent persons from going to court to challenge what they are doing and that is clearly unconstitutional.”

He said even though other countries may be doing it, “that’s not how our law operates”.

The senior attorney also questioned why the government allowed drive thru’s for fast food restaurants to be opened and not gaming houses, that also have drive thru facilities.

“If it is a drive thru, then social distancing is not an issue,” he said.

“So it’s difficult to see how the government arrived at some of the restrictions it imposed.

Wayne Munroe, QC, says he plans to mount a legal challenge to the order.

He insisted that it was ‘ultra vires’, adding businesses had very little time to prepare.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis announced an expansion of the emergency powers regulations, including a 24-hour curfew and border shutdown among additional measures.

Minnis unveiled a ‘shelter in place’ order that will effect the closure of roads to non-essential travel, and a total restriction on social activities tomorrow at 9am.