Gov’t yielding on defence lawyer exemption – Tavares-Finson
Lawyers who have accused the Holness administration of threatening the constitutional right citizens have to legal representation by the non-exemption of attorneys under COVID-19 curfew orders will see a reversal this week, according to Senate President Tom Tavares-Finson.
The update from the Queen’s counsel and one of the influential legal voices in the ruling Jamaica Labour Party comes as the Jamaican Bar Association (JAMBAR) convenes a meeting later this afternoon to consider options, including whether to take the Government to court over the matter.
Arlene Harrison-Henry, the public defender, has also come public, criticising the administration for a “grave oversight” that should be corrected “forthwith”.
“I am certainly very concerned about it and was concerned about it from the initial stages,” Tavares-Finson told The Gleaner yesterday. Although declining to answer whether he has advised the Government on the issue, he asserted: “I am pretty sure, I am confident that it will be addressed when the orders are revised. I think they are to be revised on Tuesday.”
The Senate president also criticised JAMBAR for not being more aggressive in its advocacy. “I’m just not so sure that the Bar Association and the Advocates Association made their voices heard sufficiently, and I’m not so sure that it required any great amount of advocacy to push the position that persons ought to have access to their attorneys, especially in times like these.”
Since Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared Jamaica a disaster area on March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic, several orders have been made regulating movement and business hours. Lawyers have not been among the groups exempted, although members of the judiciary like judges and court employees have been.
The situation has got more intense with the lockdown of St Catherine,where residents categorised as non-essential are not allowed to leave the parish and are permitted out in public twice per week – a situation the prime minister said will be changed following last week’s chaotic implementation.
Emile Leiba, president of the Bar Association, said that Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte has acknowledged an April 17 letter outlining the concerns of the legal fraternity.
The national security minister is empowered under the Disaster Risk Management law to recommend exemptions for Cabinet approval.
Attempts to reach Malahoo Forte for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.
JAMBAR’s concerns focus on the restricted freedom of movement of defence lawyers.
“It is not that we wish the attorneys, generally in Jamaica, to be permitted to move during curfews and quarantines,” Leiba explained, “but that for those individuals who are being detained by the police both for quarantine and COVID-related matters, as well as for other matters, that their constitutional rights for representation should still be upheld.”
The public defender holds a similar view.
“Lawyers ought to be exempt to carry out their duties. Not to be on the street generally, but to act in lawful execution of their duties, and this is normally in relation to the protection of the rights of persons who, during the pandemic, continue to be incarcerated.”
The number of persons arrested for breaches of the curfew orders was not immediately available last night, said Stephanie Lindsay, a senior superintendent and head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s communications arm.
Attorney-at-law Alexander Shaw told The Gleaner that he had to deny service to a potential client because he was based in St Catherine, which is under a lockdown. And Leiba has also pointed to an instance in which an attorney was reportedly denied entry into St Catherine to meet with a client at the Greater Portmore Police Station.