PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, – The High Court has upheld the Government’s decision to close the twin-island republic’s borders in its effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
In a written ruling handed down on Monday, in response to a constitutional claim filed by a Trinidadian woman who was stranded abroad for almost six months, Madame Justice Eleanor Donaldson-Honeywell said “the closure of the borders and the managed re-entry of nationals are not unconstitutional and are, in fact, a proportionate response to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The claimant in the case, 41-year-old Takeisha Clairmont, had been stuck in the British Virgin Islands after going to visit her brother at the end of January 2020. She was scheduled to return home on March 24, two days after Trinidad and Tobago’s borders were closed.
She was eventually able to return in September 2020.
Clairmont, through her lawyers, filed a constitutional claim in November, contending that the government acted illegally and breached her constitutional rights by closing the borders.
Her legal team contended that the government was required to amend the immigration laws to effect the change, as opposed to using the regulations which are made without parliamentary scrutiny, and there was no power to refuse a citizen the right to enter the country.
But Justice Donaldson-Honeywell said the COVID-19 Public Health Regulations, which allow for the closure of the borders and the exemption process, were found to be in keeping with the Public Health Ordinance 1940 which is saved law and therefore not subject to constitutional challenge.
The court went on to note that rights under the Constitution are not absolute.
“They carry reciprocal duties and responsibilities and may be subject to such restrictions as may be necessary in a democratic society in the public interests of national security, public safety and to protect the rights of other persons,” the judge said, noting that this applies to rights such as freedom of movement and entry into Trinidad and Tobago.
Justice Donaldson-Honeywell found that, even if the Public Health Regulations were subject to constitutional challenge, the closure of the borders and the managed re-entry of nationals were not unconstitutional.
She therefore rejected and dismissed Clairmont’s claim for judicial review and constitutional relief, and ordered her to pay 25 per cent of the State’s legal costs.
Clairmont was represented by Anand Ramlogan SC, Renuka Rambhajan, Che Dindial, Alana Rambaran and Ganesh Saroop.
The Attorney General was represented by Reginald Armour SC, Vanessa Gopaul, Raphael Ajodhia, Savitri Maharaj and Kadine Matthew.