Quarantine and its legal enforcement
This week Your Advocate is Barrister Omar Khan Joy, Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh. He is the head of the chambers of a renowned law firm, namely, 'Legal Counsel', which has expertise mainly in commercial law, corporate law, family law, employment and labor law, land law, banking law, constitutional law, criminal law, IPR and in conducting litigations before courts of different hierarchies. Our civil and criminal law experts from reputed law chambers will provide the legal summary advice.
In this highly alarming situation of Coronavirus, we have observed that people do not stay in quarantine and they are still attending public gatherings and exposing themselves to the risk of being infected with it. How do we legally enforce the order of quarantine and stop public gathering?
Corona Virus Disease (COVID-19) has been declared as an internal public health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which has infected millions of people worldwide. In Bangladesh, laws such as the Contagious Diseases (Prevention, Control and Eradication) Act 2018 (CDA 2018) have been enacted with the view to preventing, curing and eradicating contagious diseases. Under CDA 2018, the Directorate General for Health Services (DGHS) is responsible for taking appropriate measures regarding contagious diseases, including, but not limited to, purifying/destroying products of infected persons, putting an infected person in quarantine, etc. CDA 2018 further provides penalties for persons spreading contagious diseases advertently, obstructing the DG or other personnel in discharging their duties, etc. Moreover, Sections 269 to 271 of the Penal Code, 1860 can also be invoked to punish the people, who may risk the spreading of the novel coronavirus and /or violate the order of quarantine. In addition to that, the Hon'ble High Court Division has also given an oral direction for the checking of foreign nationals while entering Bangladesh, preparatory measures to be taken by public and private hospitals and the Government to import emergency equipment, if needed. However, it is clearly visible that there is a lack of seriousness to the entire issue of COVID-19. Although the Government has adopted a few measures, such as production of masks, introducing COVID-19 helpline, briefing IEDCR, closing down schools, colleges, etc., it is still insufficient if we come to analyse the catastrophic effect COVID-19 may bring to our country. Proper implementation of the law and rigorous measures seem to be missing.
If we come to think of the measures taken by other countries, we can clearly see that almost all the countries are in a lockdown and people are abiding by the directions given by the Officials of their countries. Unfortunately, our country people are unaware of how deadly COVID-19 can get and the catastrophic consequences associated thereto.
In such a situation where people are not abiding by the order of quarantine, an order under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898 (or similar provisions for the metropolitan areas) may be imposed against such persons. An order under s. 144 of CrPC 1898 can be issued by a District Magistrate or any other Magistrate specially empowered by the Government or the District Magistrate to act under s. 144, where they consider that such direction is likely to prevent obstruction, annoyance, injury, danger to human life, health or safety, etc. Historically, during most of the military regimes, we have seen the use of this section, mostly for arbitrary purposes. However, we can make use of this order in a positive manner at this moment of crisis and solely for the purpose of public welfare, health & safety. It has been reported that orders under section 144 of Indian CrPC have been imposed in Noida, Chattisgarh, Maharasthtra as a precautionary measure from COVID 19. Moreover, section 144 has also been imposed in the Punjab Province of Pakistan after cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the country. Likewise, the Italian Prime Minister has signed a decree, ordering people to stay at home, banning all sorts of public gatherings. Most of the Italians have followed decree, however, there have also been people who have been found in breach of it. It is worth mentioning that Italy has put charges on more than 40,000 people who have been found in violation of the lockdown. In a similar manner, a decree of State of Alarm has been approved by the Government of Spain and hundreds of people have been arrested across Spain for violating the said decree.
Therefore, at the moment where the people of our country are knowingly or unknowingly failing to fathom the seriousness of the situation and the intensity of the deadly COVID-19, making ill-use of the quarantine and attending public gatherings, imposition of section 144 seems to be the only way through which they can be compelled to stay indoors and avoid all sorts of public gatherings.