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New bill would replace emergency orders

Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday his office is nearly finished drafting a bill that would replace the emergency orders put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“On the issue of the emergency orders, the government is, my draftsperson and I, have been working very hard on crafting a bill that will fill the void, if you will, between the Health Services Bill and the need for these constitutional emergency orders,” said Bethel in the Senate.

He added, “So, that should be forthcoming. As soon as it is completed, of course, it goes to Cabinet. Cabinet will have to approve it, but we are trying to come up with a new framework.

“And nobody, nobody, nobody wants the continuation ad infinitum of emergency orders.

“But it is a difficult work of drafting because we are trying to create something that is going to be effective, serviceable, efficient, and most importantly, responsive – responsive both to threats as in when they occur but also responsive to civil society and its legitimate concerns.

“It’s to strike a balance. And I can tell you that a lot of work and thought is going into it.”

Last month, Bethel argued that contrary to what some critics have said, a state of emergency is necessary to enforce COVID-19 mitigation measures – particularly curfews, lockdowns, and travel restrictions.

At the time, he took particular issue with an editorial in The Nassau Guardian.

In the House of Assembly the Wednesday before, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said, “If there were no emergency orders, we could not mandate the wearing of masks and other life-saving measures.”

The editorial argued that his statement was “demonstrably false”.

However, Bethel said that was not the case and said The Guardian was “ill-advised legally” and cited a recent case in Trinidad and Tobago in which Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh ruled that the power to enforce certain restrictions can only be granted by the constitution.

Bethel said the ruling “clearly shows that the power to impose a curfew and the like cannot arise from ordinary legislation passed by Parliament.” 

Yesterday, he said the new legislation would require that any measures taken be “reasonably justifiable”.

“And the idea is that the bill, and we are in the very final stages of it, is going to be carefully crafted,” he said.

“Anything that is done must be reasonably justifiable, which is the constitutional standard for ordinary everyday conduct, legislation, government actions, etc. 

“So, everything is being based and premised on the phrase that it is reasonably justifiable in the circumstances.

“So, we are very, very close to having a post-emergency orders bill and that will allow the minister, prime minister, [it will provide for] an advisory committee, opposition members, government members, medical professionals on it to advise the minister so that in a sense the political directorate on both sides will have a say at the advisory committee level.

“And, of course, there will be parliamentary oversight.

“So, we are trying to craft a house firmly under the jurisdiction of normality that is guided by ordinary constitutional principles of being reasonably justifiable and that has input on all sides at every stage.”

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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