Those who fail to wear their mask, who breach quarantine or violate any of the Covid regulations will soon have to pay heavy fines.

Legislation which will see the creation of a schedule of fixed penal­ties was yesterday passed unani­mously in the House of Repre­sentatives.

And, it moves swiftly to the Senate for debate today from 10.30 a.m.

These stiff penalties can come into effect as early as next week.

At the opening of the first session of the 12th Parliament yesterday, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi piloted the Public Health (Amendment) Bill, 2020.

It is an act to amend the Public Health Ordinance, Ch 12 No 4, to make provision for fixed penalties and fixed penalty notices for offences under the Public Health Ordinance, Ch 12 No 4.

“This law is not drafted simply for mask wearing.

“It is a formula to allow for a number of events to be done by way of fixed-penalty ­notice,” he said.

The AG said as it stands now, if there is a breach of regulations one is compelled to look up an ­arrestable offence.

He said Clause 3 moves the penalty from $50,000 and six months’ imprisonment to $250,000 and six months’ imprisonment.

He said it will be at the discretion of the magistrate to determine the fine—whether it be $0 or the full extent of $250,000.

Alternative route

Al-Rawi said Clause 4 introduces a fixed-penalty system.

“We are proposing that a regime of fixed penalties can be applied so there is an alternative route for enforcement of breach of regulations,” he said.

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He said this alternative route allows for a police officer to ­visit someone who is potentially in breach of an offence with a fixed-penalty notice.

The Health Minister, he said, will have the power, from time to time, to amend the regulations to add an offence or remove any offence or alter the fixed penalty.

Al-Rawi said instead of being confined only to an arrestable ­offence of a maximum of $50,000 and six months’ jail, you now have the alternative of a policeman saying the regulations have a schedule—for example, failure to wear a mask would carry a fine.

“The intention of the Government is to issue these regulations with a schedule by which we immediately prescribe fixed-penalty notices,” he said.

The regulations, he said, will now prescribe that failure to wear a mask in a public place with certain exceptions—for instance, age, medical condition, physical disability—will attract fines:

• First offence — $1,000

• Third offence — $5,000

“After that, you are looking ­instead to the arrestable offences,” he said.

The AG said more matters will now fall under fixed penalty—for instance, if someone breaches self-quarantine. He said this was why there was an amendment of the fine from $50,000 and six months to $250,000 and six months’ imprisonment.

“The bill allows for a formula for fixed-penalty regimes by way of regulations which can be adjusted from time to time,” he said.

Exponential factor

Al-Rawi also said the bill allows for the clerk of the district to receive payments. He noted there are three magisterial districts—Port of Spain, South and Tobago—while payment of penalties can also be made by way of electronic payments into and out of court.

Al-Rawi said this law preserves the right of appeal, so a person can pay a penalty and still appeal the fixed ticket.

He pointed out that one is fined $2,000 for failure to wear a seatbelt, where you can harm yourself and others in a vehicular accident.

“In the case of the Covid pandemic, failure to wear a mask… or to obey a self-quarantine… you are looking at the potential to infect hundreds, if not thousands, of people on an exponential factor,” he said.

A total of eight members from both the Government and Opposition benches contributed to the debate of the bill before it went to the Committee stage. There were no major changes to the bill, which was passed with no objections.

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