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Case details

Satyanand Maharaj (Appellant) v Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago (Trinidad and Tobago)

Case ID: JCPC 2021/0065

Jurisdiction: Court of Appeal of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago

Case summary

Issue

Are the Coronavirus Regulations adopted by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago unconstitutional?

Facts

On 1 August 2020, the Minister of Health of Trinidad and Tobago adopted the Public Health [2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)] Regulations, 2020 (No. 23) ("the Coronavirus Regulations"). Regulation 2(1) of the Coronavirus Regulations prohibited gatherings of more than ten people in public places. By regulation 2(2), that prohibition did not apply to "religious gatherings" which complied with the Guidelines for Places of Worship issued by the Ministry of Health ("the Guidelines"). Regulation 2(3) provided that "[a] person who contravenes this regulation commits an offence".

The Appellant is a Hindu pundit and the spiritual head of an ashram in Trinidad and Tobago. On 3 August 2020, he brought a claim alleging that the Coronavirus Regulations were unlawful and unconstitutional. His claim was partially successful at first instance. The High Court of Trinidad and Tobago decided that the Guidelines were uncertain and vague and that, by purporting to criminalise breaches of the Guidelines, the Minister of Health had acted outside the scope of his powers. The High Court dismissed other aspects of the Appellant’s claim, including his argument that the Coronavirus Regulations infringed rights and freedoms protected by section 4 of the Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago, including the right to freedom of conscience and religious belief and observance.

The Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago dismissed the Appellant’s appeal and allowed the Attorney General’s cross-appeal, deciding that the Guidelines were sufficiently clear, that reference to the Guidelines in the Coronavirus Regulations reduced rather than expanded the scope of criminal liability, and that the Coronavirus Regulations were neither unlawful nor unconstitutional.

The Appellant now appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Parties

Appellant(s)

Satyanand Maharaj

Respondent(s)

Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago

Appeal

Justices

Lord Reed, Lord Briggs, Lord Sales, Lord Stephens, Lady Rose

Hearing start date

23 March 2022

Hearing finish date

23 March 2022