Rather than preventing governments from responding to public health emergencies, the ruling in the vaccine mandate case says the governments must obey the law, even in a pandemic, says Opposition Leader Godwin Friday.
“The measures that you take in response to a pandemic is to save lives and to protect people, and to uphold the dignity of the individual,” Friday, who is also a lawyer, said in recent comments on radio.
“You can’t do it by infringing on people’s rights. And by basically treating people who you say that you so much love and you want to protect, treating them as though they are the problem,” he said.
Friday said this is what happened under the vaccine mandate that the Ralph Gonsalves government brought into effect in December 2021, resulting in hundreds of public sector workers losing their jobs.
However, last Monday, High Court judge Justice Esco Henry ruled that the mandate and the resulting dismissal of workers constitute a breach of natural justice, contravene the Constitution, were unlawful, procedurally-improper and void.
Justice Henry said the workers never ceased to be employed by the government and are entitled to their salaries and benefits as well as punitive damages.
“So, to say that somehow this is going to tie government’s hands in a pandemic, that’s nonsense. You have to just act in a legal manner. Similarly, you have to act in the best interest of all the people involved.”
He said that the government cannot just disregard the rights of people because there is a problem.
“It has to be proportionate. The court says here that the action that the minister took were disproportionate to the problems that they confronted. So, if it provides guidance with respect to the handling of any public health situation in the future, it is a government can’t just do whatever it feels like,” Friday said.
He said the court is saying that the government “can’t just make up the rules as they go along and say everybody has to follow.
“They still have to act within the law, because we are a country of laws not a country of men. And no matter how powerful you are, how long you have been in office, you still have to follow the law.”
The government has said that it would appeal the court ruling and apply for a stay of execution until the appeal is heard.
Friday noted the government’s right to appeal, adding, “But the point is you have to exercise judgment both legally and politically.
“Politically, this is something that should not be appealed,” Friday said, adding that the government should reinstate the workers “because this is something that was wrong in the first place.
“But even so, the circumstances have changed on the ground, people are getting back to normal, they’re learning to live with COVID. And this is a matter that, really, there’s no reason to prolong it and to drag it out any further.”
He said that the right to appeal does not mean that one must appeal in every instance.
“You now have to look at the merits of the case,” he said.
Friday said the government announcing an appeal before the full judgment was released was equivalent to saying, “Listen, we going do it no matter what the judgment says.”
He said the government acted in a similar way in the land acquisition lawsuit that former Commissioner of Police, the late Randolph Toussaint won against the state.
“And that was completely illegal. But they took it all the way to the Privy Council. It came back, they took it here, it was tried, and they were found wanting and when the government spent over a million dollars when the land in question was valued under $300,000 and they still haven’t honoured the judgment. They said they have appealed and kept the matter hanging there for the last six, seven, eight years.”
Friday said he does not want to see this happen in the extant case.
“So, the government should do the right thing and put them back in their jobs, put them back in the positions that they have been so disgracefully dismissed from and make sure that they have their benefits and all your rights accrued,” the opposition leader said.
“Put them back where they worked when they deem them to have left their job and to be magnanimous — and I am not saying that they will do this but this is something that should be done — they should apologise. Apologise to the people because they hurt their feelings more than just their bank account,” Friday said.
Mr Godwin its a massive job you are taking on, when speaking to the nation you must tell them the country is so far back, it gonna take about 10 to 25 years to put it back to where it should be, or they may think you can do it in 5 years, almost every thing have to rebuild and that take money and time
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