Barbados to Lift Curfew on Night of General Election

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – The Barbados government has said that the curfew put in place to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 will be lifted on the night of the general election even as opposition parties contemplate mounting a legal challenge to allow people who have tested positive for the virus vote in the January 19 election.

barbamiaPrime Minister Mia Mottley (file photo)Attorney General and Minister of legal Affairs, Dale Marshall, in a statement said that as of midnight on Thursday, the current COVID directive would have expired and that a new COVID directive will go into effect and will last until January 31.

“This new directive will be very much the same as the previous recent directives, in that there will be a curfew from midnight each night until 5:00 am (local time) the following morning.

“There will be one exception to that rule, however. On election night, there will be no curfew at all.  The rationale behind this really draws from the history of our last experience on election night, where voting was considerably delayed until well into the hours of the next morning.”

Marshall said that in addition to that, “with our COVID numbers rising it is difficult to predict what might happen on election night, in relation to the slowing down of various processes.

“And therefore, we feel it best, having considered all of the scenarios, to leave the way clear for the Electoral and Boundaries Commission to do their work properly and unrushed, taking as much time as is necessary without running afoul of the directives,” Marshall said.

Health authorities reported that 420 positive COVID-19 cases, including 248 females, from the 1,978 tests conducted on Wednesday.

The cases comprised 65 persons under the age of 18, and 355 who were 18 years and older. There were 184 people in isolation facilities, while 2,019 were in home isolation. A boy, aged 14, died from the virus on Wednesday. He was unvaccinated.  As at January 5, there were 264 deaths from the virus.

The authorities have said that since February 2020, there have been 30,597 recoveries and that under the National Vaccination Program for COVID-19, the total number of persons with at least one dose is 156,101.

Meanwhile, minority opposition parties are hinting at the possibility of taking legal action against the electoral authorities who are seeking to prevent voters who have tested positive for the virus and placed in isolation from voting.

The Leader of Solutions Barbados, Grenville Phillips II, has said that once the facts related to any court action and the basis for such were firmly established, his party would have no problem joining a lawsuit.

The recently formed Alliance Party for Progress (APP), headed by outgoing Opposition Leader, Bishop Joseph Artherly, is suggesting legal action against the government to ensure provisions are made for COVID-19-positive people to vote in the election or to postpone the polls.

Atherley has called on opposition parties to come together after the chairman of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) Leslie Haynes, QC, said persons who tested positive for COVID-19 and are in isolation or quarantine cannot vote.

Atherley said if legal action was not taken, thousands of eligible voters will be “robbed” of their franchise.

Neither the ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has issued any position on the matter.

Meanwhile, Senior Counsel, Garth Patterson, has said that the courts may find it necessary to undertake a judicial review of the government’s decision to dissolve Parliament and call the election in the current COVID-19 climate.

Patterson, who has been practicing constitutional law for the past 35 years, told the online publication, Barbados TODAY that even the very electoral laws, may also be “vulnerable” to constitutional challenge in the present circumstances.

“A qualified elector who is being prevented from voting because of the COVID-19 infection may have a legitimate basis for complaining to a court that, in all the circumstances, his right to vote has been unlawfully infringed.”

He said that the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the island’s highest court, has held that every person or institution in Barbados functions under the Barbados Constitution, being the supreme law of the land, and is duty-bound to act rationally, reasonably and fairly.

“The government’s decision to dissolve Parliament and to hold elections during a pandemic may be amenable to judicial review, provided that the voter can establish that, by doing so, the Government breached its constitutional duty of rational and reasonable decision-making and/or contravened the substance or policy of any applicable law or constitutional provision,” Patterson said.

“No government can freely ignore the law, and the right to vote is enshrined in the Representation of the People Act (ROPA), which the Constitution mandates must make provision for every qualified voter to have a reasonable opportunity of voting in a general election.

“This includes every otherwise qualified COVID-positive voter. To the extent that the existing electoral law fails to make adequate provision for voting other than by in-person voting at a polling station (e.g. voting by mail) during the pandemic, the law itself may also be vulnerable to constitutional challenge.

“A court in these circumstances has jurisdiction to stop the elections from proceeding,” Patterson told the publication.

He said that while it is illegal to break home isolation or quarantine without the expressed authority of the Chief Medical Officer, no exception has been carved out for persons exercising their right to vote.

“The EBC and the government have failed to address the more fundamental question, whether the conduct of general elections during a state of emergency that has been declared as a result of a global pandemic is either prudent or lawful.

“There are understandable concerns that a significant segment of the electorate, consisting of persons who are in isolation or quarantine as a result of COVID-19 virus, will be disenfranchised through no fault of their own. The legality of the elections called under these conditions has also been questioned, and appropriately so,” Patterson said.

Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who in 2018, led the BLP to a clean sweep of all 30 seats in the Parliament, called the snap elections, at least 18 months before the constitutional deadline, insisting that she would not allow Barbados to enter 2022 as a divided nation.