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Govt looking to craft legislation to combat pandemics

A Medical Emergency Bill is being drafted to give the government an alternative method of managing pandemics in the future, according to Attorney General Carl Bethel.

“We are looking to see if we can craft a Medical Emergency Bill that will capture pandemics in the future and allow for limited control measures, sector-specific or island-specific or agent-specific control measures,” Bethel said yesterday.

“There is a draft that is being prepared but it’s not ready yet. We’ll probably be doing some work on it this week to try to have something for the consideration of the government.”

He said the government cannot “afford to rush” the legislation.

Bethel said it must ensure that it is something that is “constitutionally defensible,” noting that it is a “critical thing”.

“When you’re dealing with issues like the health measures, the health measures may have an impact on people’s personal rights,” he said.

“In other words, the measures are there to force you to take care of yourself or to protect others and that’s an infringement on rights.

“And so, how that is crafted is extremely difficult and we’re looking at it and there have been some helpful decisions in other jurisdictions on these issues. We’re looking to fit the bill within the context of the developing law.”

Governor General C.A. Smith declared a state of emergency on March 18, three days after The Bahamas confirmed its first COVID-19 case.

A “procedural oversight” in the Office of the Attorney General led to the inadvertent expiration of the first state of emergency on June 29, leading to the governor general’s declaration of a new state of emergency on the same day.

Had that error not occurred, the six-month period permitted by the constitution for a state of emergency would have expired last month.

While the government has said the June emergency proclamation provides for a fresh six months, some legal observers have argued that the constitution does not envision a second proclamation — and by extension, a new six-month period — for the same emergency.

The latest proclamation grants the government the ability to extend the state of emergency until December 31, 2020.

Yesterday, Bethel said that the governor general would be able to make another proclamation “if that was the only way he could ensure public health”.

“We’re looking to see if we can find another way,” he said.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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