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Temporary block on hotel quarantine plan rejected by judge

Chief Justice Narinder Hargun (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

A Supreme Court bid for a temporary block on the introduction of a controversial Covid-19 regulation to force non-vaccinated residents who returned from overseas to pay for quarantine in a hotel was rejected yesterday.

Chief Justice Narinder Hargun said after a two-and-a-half hour hearing: “I am clear in my mind that this application must be dismissed.”

Mr Justice Hargun said he would give his reasons in writing next week.

But he added that a substantive hearing on the case will be held next month.

Mark Pettingill, the lawyer who appeared for the three applicants – Albert Brewster, Vincent Lightbourne and Wendy Warren – asked for an interim injunction to have the regulation temporarily shelved.

He argued that the case was in the public interest, that the applicants would suffer irreparable harm if the regulation was enforced and that the rights of individuals to freedom of movement overrode public safety fears.

Mr Pettingill said: “The distinguishing feature is that, in all other instances where there are Covid restrictions in place, those restrictions do not differentiate between the vaccinated and non-vaccinated.

“We’re the only place in the world that I have been able to find that has made a distinction between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.”

He added: “No one is saying that you can’t impose a quarantine – what is unreasonable is forcing people not vaccinated to undergo quarantine at a designated place that they have to pay for rather than their own home.

“Is there a serious issue to be tried? We’re talking about constitutional rights and freedom of movement.

“The fact that they will be forced to remain institutionalised for a two-week period is not reasonably required.”

Mr Pettingill said that Government could have adopted a “carrot” approach to encourage people to get vaccinated.

He added: “What you’re getting is the stick if you’re forced into quarantine in a place you don’t want to stay in and you have to pay for it. This is incarceration. It should not be imposed on a citizen who is not in breach of any law.

“Why should the state coerce them to take the vaccine?”

But Delroy Duncan QC, for the Government, highlighted similar cases in Canada where opponents to mandatory quarantine in approved centres had had their challenges thrown out.

He argued that the applicants had failed to demonstrate that they would suffer irreparable harm – because none of them had shown that they intended to travel in the near future.

Constitutional Freedom Bermuda, a pressure group which is funding the legal challenge, said afterwards: “The Government argued that interim relief should not be granted because the applicants could be compensated by way of monetary damages if their constitutional rights were, after a full hearing, found to have been breached.

“On this basis, the court was not minded to grant our application for interim injunctive relief, but it did grant our application for an expedited hearing on this matter.

“We are pleased to confirm that the court granted our request for an expedited hearing on the substantive challenge.

“We look forward to vindicating the constitutional rights infringed.

“In the interim, the Bermudian public should hold the Government accountable to ensure that they do not continue to unreasonably trample on the rights of Bermudian citizens.”

Non-vaccinated people who return from overseas will have to quarantine at a Government-approved hotel at their own expense, rather than in their own homes, from Sunday.

The change was announced by David Burt, the Premier, last month, who said that Government could not afford to police people quarantined at home.

•It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding court cases. As we are legally liable for any slanderous or defamatory comments made on our website, this move is for our protection as well as that of our readers.