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LATT: Police are ‘enforcing law which does not exist’—secret and public exchanges on roadblocks

“[…] All of these are instances of police officers enforcing a law which does not exist. There is no law which says you cannot be on the road after 8pm, no law which says you can only go to the grocery if absolutely necessary, no law which empowers the police to send someone home who is on their way to court or not on the way [to] work at an essential service.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, these are all instances of abuse of power…”

The following are responses to traffic exercises conducted by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS) by Law Association president Douglas Mendes SC, Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) political leader David Abdulah, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith and Minister of National Security Stuart Young:

Photo: The TTPS conducts a traffic exercise.

19 April 2020

(Letter to Attorney General Faris Al Rawi, National Security Minister Stuart Young and Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith)

Dear Sirs,

In accordance with its statutory mandate to protect and assist the public in all matters relating to the law and to promote, maintain and support the administration of justice and the rule of law, the Law Association has been monitoring the Regulations made by the Minister of Health under the Public Health Act and the enforcement of same by members of the police service.

We write at the this time to express concerns about the way the Regulations are being interpreted and applied by the Commissioner of Police and his officers and, in this regard, we draw particular attention to the recent spate of road blocks and the reported justification for same.

We understand the Regulations seek to prohibit certain specified activities. For example, the Regulations seek to prohibit persons from going to work at enterprises which are not included among what are referred to as essential services. They also seek to prohibit persons from assembling in groups of more than five or attending beaches, rivers and such like.

Beyond that which is prohibited, however, persons are free to come and go as they like.

To be clear, whilst the population has been urged to stay at home to prevent the further spread of the virus, and the Regulations have been referred to as a ‘Stay at Home’ Order, the Regulations are in fact not structured in such a way as to constitute a blanket prohibition against persons leaving home unless they are engaging in permitted activities. It is just the opposite.

Photo: The novel coronavirus.

Persons are not attend and become involved in prohibited activities. Once they are not so involved, they are free to go about their normal daily activities.

By way of example, persons are not prohibited from leaving home to exercise, to visit elderly parents, or even to drive about—as long as in so doing they do not, for example, assemble in groups of more than five.

We wish to make clear that we do not intend in any way to discourage members of the police service from enforcing the Regulations which we appreciate are intended to ste, the spread of a highly contagious disease. Neither do we intend to encourage persons to leave home except where absolutely necessary.

We do consider it our duty, however, to draw to your attention instances where, due to  exuberance or a misunderstanding of the law or otherwise, police office assume the exercise of powers which they do not have.

This letter is being written under confidential cover in order to assist you in achieving a responsible and lawful approach to dealing with this ongoing crisis. There is no intention on our part to make it public.

Yours sincerely,

Douglas Mendes SC,

President,

Law Association

Photo: Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) president Douglas Mendes SC.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

20 April

(Letter to Attorney General Faris Al Rawi, National Security Minister Stuart Young and Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith)

Dear Attorney General, Minister and Commissioner,

As I write this, I am receiving reports of roadblocks at various points in the country and of exchanges with police officers which have served only to reinforce the points that I sought to make in my letter sent to you yesterday.

I have had reports of persons, this morning, on the way to court—which is a permissible activity under the Regulations—being directed by police officers to turn around and go back home.

Upon observing that some vehicles were being directed to a side dirt road, an attorney enquired of a police officer what would happen if he was not proceeding to work at an essential service and was told he would be directed to return home.

Prior to this, I had had reports of persons on their way to the supermarket being stopped and questioned by police officers as to the real necessity of making the trip. Most egregiously, I have had a report of a lawyer being stopped on his way home last night and being advised by a police officer that it is a breach of Regulation 7 to be on the road after 8pm.

Regrettably, all of these are instances of police officers enforcing a law which does not exist. There is no law which says you cannot be on the road after 8pm, no law which says you can only go to the grocery if absolutely necessary, no law which empowers the police to send someone home who is on their way to court or not on the way [to] work at an essential service.

Photo: The TTPS conducts a traffic exercise.

Not to put too fine a point on it, these are all instances of abuse of power. In the case mentioned of the lawyer who was stopped on the grounds that it was unlawful to be on the road after 8pm, he was pulled aside and made to wait for half an hour before he was released after he had asserted that there was no such law.

The point is that members of the public are being detained, even if temporarily, or being sent home against their will in compliance with unlawful directives. Very few persons are likely to challenge any such instances of false imprisonment in court but that is no reason to ignore what is happening on the ground.

As I said in my letter, the Law Association understands the need for persons to self-isolate and to leave home only if necessary. As I write this at home, a motor vehicle with a loud haler is passing by encouraging persons to stay at home and stay safe.

I fear however that that the salutary goal of persuading persons to stay indoors will be undermined if insufficient instances of police abuse of power are brought to light.

Resentment may lead to protest, which may lead to defiance, resulting in a spiralling cycle of encounters with police officers who themselves are under the stress of enforcing the law in these trying circumstances.

I urge you therefore as a matter of great priority to brief members of the police service on what the Regulations actually provide and as to the limits of their power.

Best regards,

Douglas Mendes SC,

President,

Law Association

Photo: Traffic on the highway.

21 April 2020

(Press statement)

The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) is of the view that the strategy of major roadblocks adopted by the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service in an effort to minimise the spread of Covid-19 is more of a nuisance than anything else.

Firstly, it must be noted that the Public Health Regulations now in force do NOT prohibit persons from leaving their homes or using their vehicles. The Regulations prohibit certain activities such as non essential businesses; the congregating of persons in groups of more than five; the visiting of beaches, rivers etc.

The ‘Stay at Home’ requirement is not now a legally enforceable one. It is an exhortation by the Government. The MSJ supports this exhortation as it is absolutely necessary for the minimising of the spread of the virus.

As has been repeatedly stated by the Prime Minister, ‘Stay at Home’ is an appeal to the good sense of citizens to do the right thing. However, it is not a legal requirement. The TTPS therefore cannot stop anyone from being in their car or force anyone to turn around and go back home.

The roadblocks are therefore having a greater negative effect. The roadblocks are causing those essential workers who are on their way to work or who are actually doing their jobs to lose valuable time in massive traffic jams.

Photo: Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh (left) and National Security Minister Stuart Young discuss the novel coronavirus.

This is counter-productive at a time when we need maximum productivity by the essential workers given that many of the businesses that they are in have limited work hours. It may also not be the best use of police resources.

The TTPS needs to be more creative in ensuring that people do not violate the legal regulations. It is notable that the Police did not charge one prominent cloth store owner in downtown Port of Spain for violating the law when that store was open last week. In addition to ensuring that criminal activities are being tackled by the TTPS, it may be useful for the logistical resources of the T&T Defence Force to be used for distributing food to families that are in great need at this time.

Hampers organised by NGOs, the purchase of food produced by farmers and purchased by the state, and meals prepared through the traditional school feeding programme—are but some of the food needs of persons without an income that could be distributed by the TTDF.

The MSJ calls on the people of Trinidad and Tobago who are not essential workers to ‘stay at home’ and as you go out to do what is necessary and legally allowed—purchasing food or medicines—please do so responsibly and observe physical distancing, wear a mask and sanitise and/or wash your hands.

Voluntary compliance is far better than an enforced stay at home by way of a state of emergency.

Movement for Social Justice,

David Abdulah,

Political Leader

Photo: Police Commissioner Gary Griffith directs traffic on a Sunday morning after the Wet Fete “Jamnation” at O2 Park, Chaguaramas on 24 February 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

21 April

(Press statement by Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith)

What some see as a ‘problem’, I see as something that is a powerful tool to save lives. The TTPS is not causing the problem. We want to reduce the problem.

Then those who are being irresponsible and immature by not adhering to a basic policy, should simply do what is required and stay at home. If that is done, and only those employed in essential services, or going to acquire goods and services go out, then there would be no traffic ‘problems’. But this is about persons being selfish.

They are insisting that they have constitutional rights to go where and when they please. To those, I say: “You are correct. It is your constitutional right to be selfish and irresponsible. It is your constitutional right to travel wherever you want that can lead to your death.

It is your constitutional right to use your car to go elsewhere when it is not essential that can cause the death of others. It is your constitutional right to be a transporter of the virus by getting it where you go, then give it to your loved ones when you return home.”

I would ensure that the Police would not infringe on those who demand on having those constitutional rights to harm themselves or others. But I would not give you the green light to go about doing it. If what I do provides a deterrent to save lives, I would so do.

It is not my responsibility to make popular decisions. It is my responsibility to make decisions to preserve lives whilst not affecting constitutional rights. What some see as a problem, I see as a solution.

Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (left) and Minister of National Security Stuart Young.
(via TTPS)

22 April

(Statement by Minister of National Security Stuart Young at daily press briefing)

The Police Service, we’ve been meeting on a daily basis and it’s funny in our last three outings—we’ve been meeting on a daily basis, before today—we’ve been  talking about the challenges coming ahead…

These road blocks are not based on the ‘Stay at Home’ measures and regulations and provisions. Crime and criminality continue to affect Trinidad and Tobago, the police have the authority to have road blocks at ant time… Road blocks are not a Covid measure.

And three days ago in meeting with the commissioner of police and one of his deputy commissioners of police, we predicted it was only a matter of time before someone sought to throw some mischief amongst this.

I congratulate and I thank the people of the Police Service for continuing to do what you are doing on a daily basis to try to keep us the population of Trinidad and Tobago safe. Continue. You have the support of the civic minded and right minded citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.

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3 comments

  1. In light of this Covid 19 pandemic I see that one of the symptoms that has not be reported is the rampant “stupidity” in some sections of the population I suggest that the Minister of Health and the government warn people that if they should contract the coronavirus by not complying with the stay at home measures and it has been found out that they were engaged in irresponsible behaviour; that they will have to fund the cost of all medical and other measures that will have to be taken to save their lives and the people that they have infected. This should go as far as seizure of their property if they don”t have the financial means to repay or be made to perform six months to a year of service to the government i.e street cleaning and be force to wear a uniform that let the public know that they were one of the irresponsible idiots that put peoples lives at risk.

  2. As the person in charge of law enforcement, and ensuring police officers and other personnel under his command enforce the law in a correct manner, Gary Griffith astoundingly shows how little he knows about the law every time he opens his mouth.

    Take a little thing called “capacity”. A person is assumed to have the capacity to determine his own life unless it is proved that he has no capacity (usually through medical testing and court orders). This means that every person going out and about his business is deemed to have the capacity to make decisions. This holds true even if a decision is irrational or downright stupid . People are allowed to make stupid decisions.

    In short, it is not Gary’s job to prevent people from making stupid decisions. His job is primarily law enforcement and keeping the peace. The same applies to his police officers.

    Newsday reports that he states he has a “‘constitutional right’ to protect people from themselves, and their misguided actions” [allegedly reported on the TTPS’ Facebook page, according to the Newsday].

    Again, he speaks from a position of ignorance. See paragraph 2.

    The Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) is absolutely correct. This is the reason why Senior Counsel Israel Rajah-Khan called for a limited state of emergency. A limited state of emergency would have made things a lot clearer, and prevent a lot of problems such as the state being sued for mischief, as is being done by Ravi Maharaj.

    Clearly Gary has a lot to learn, but his arrogance limits his ability and willingness to learn. No doubt about it, despite his popularity, he is probably one of the worse police commissioners occupying that chair in the history of Trinidad and Tobago.

    • Seems to be quite a stretch.

      It would be interesting to learn the basis on which you deem him as “probably one of the worse police commissioners occupying that chair in the history of Trinidad and Tobago”, especially as all our previous, arguably fall in that category.