Attorney General says COVID response measures are constitutional

Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte has responded to suggestions the Government acted in breach of  the Constitution by declaring Jamaica a disaster area in response to the Covid-19 crisis without declaring a  State of  Public Emergency.

The declaration of  Jamaica as a disaster zone gave the government the authority to exercise emergency powers including the quarantining of  communities.

But several attorneys have argued that a state of  emergency should have been declared and the government has opened itself  to legal challenge.

Mrs Malahoo Forte says the debate is also taking place within government.

Yesterday, well known attorney Dr Lloyd Barnett said that without a State of Public Emergency, some of the measures announced by the Government breach the Charter of Rights.

"It is unconstitutional," he said while speaking on Radio Jamaica's Hotline.

Barnett has cited, for example, restrictions on freedom of movement and freedom of association, saying the proper thing to do would be to declare a state of emergency on the grounds of a health exigency before imposing measures like these.

But speaking on Friday evening during a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister, Malahoo Forte asserted that the government acted on legal grounds.

"Do you think that we really would embark on an action that we consider unconstitutional?" 

Noting that Jamaica was in "uncharted waters", she however said that opinions will differ and the debate would continue to rage.

"Some of these questions will only properly be answered in the court that is entrusted with interpreting the law," she said but maintained that the measures were legal.

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