You will not be arrested and jailed for not wearing a face mask.
But you will be ticketed.
How much the fine would be will be determined by the Cabinet, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said yesterday.
The bill seeks to amend the Public Health Ordinance, Chapter 14 No 4, to introduce a fixed penalty system for offences committed under Section 105 of the Public Health Ordinance.
“The legislation that is coming to the Parliament on Friday is to amend the Public Health Ordinance, which is an old but very robust piece of law. In that law currently, the only methodology there is to treat with breaches of the law is by way of an arrestable offence where they have to arrest the person, take him/her before a magistrate and subject them to a fine (currently) of $50,000 or six months’ imprisonment.
“What I am doing is to introduce alternative remedies for offences by way of adding a fixed penalty system,” the Attorney General said. He said fixed penalties exist in a number of laws such as litter laws, dangerous drugs, motor vehicle and road traffic laws.
“I am introducing this fixed penalty system so that whatever (offences) the Cabinet chooses to be measured by way of a fixed penalty can be put into the regulations. So mask wearing will be a fixed penalty offence and we will settle upon an appropriate fine—what fine is appropriate on a first offence, on the second offence and on the third offence. This allows me to add into the whole structure a number of other fixed penalties in the future.
“Let’s assume we want to deal with something other than mask wearing, such as a breach of the quarantine rules or being at a public beach, whatever it (the offence) is, I can now, instead of arresting people only for the offence, I can now treat with it by way of a ticketable offence,” the Attorney General said.
Cabinet to determine fine
He said once the parent law is amended, he can apply a menu of remedies in the regulations. “This amendment to the parent act would create a springboard that allows for alternatives to arrestable offences, and I can slice and dice that any way I want in the future,” Al-Rawi said.
He said he could not enforce mask wearing by arresting everybody who does not wear a mask. Instead, persons will have to pay a fine. “Of course, if it gets more serious, I can stop using the fixed penalty system and go for arrestable (offence), the law would allow me that flexibility,” he said.
According to the bill, the fine is to be paid within 14 days.
Asked what would be the fine, the Attorney General said that would be determined by the Cabinet.
He said by tomorrow when the bill is debated, the public would know what the fines are.
Clause 3 of the bill would amend Section 105 of the Public Health Ordinance to increase the maximum penalty for breaches of regulations from $50,000 to $250,000.
However, the Attorney General explained while the bill specifies that a breach of the law will lead to a maximum of $250,000 and six months’ jail, “that does not mean that you will get a regulation saying a fixed penalty is $250,000. That is a ceiling limit.
“But in the regulations, it may say $1,000 for not wearing your mask as a first offence, and $2,000 or $5,000 for the second offence. In law, you set maximum limits, but it doesn’t mean that your regulations are going to propose fines at the maximum limit, so just be conscious of that difference,” he said.
The bill says where a police officer has reason to believe a person is committing or has committed an offence under Section 105, he shall issue to the person a fixed penalty notice, charging him with the commission of such offence and requiring him to pay the fixed penalty within the time specified in the fixed penalty notice.
The bill allows for an appeal to a magistrate in the district in which the person paid the fixed penalty, and where the court decides in his favour, the fixed penalty paid is refunded to the person.
Other than that, proceedings in respect of an offence deemed to be instituted by a fixed penalty notice shall not be listed for hearing in court unless a period of two months has elapsed from the last day on which the penalty is payable and there is no record that the penalty has been paid.
The bill says the minister may from to time amend the regulations to add any offence to the schedule and prescribe in respect of that offence a fixed penalty not exceeding $20,000; or may remove an offence from the schedule or alter the fixed penalty for any offence so long as it does not exceed $20,000.