Chief Justice sets Jan. 20 to hear arguments in Unions challenge against Govt’s COVID-19 measures

Chief Justice Roxane George, SC has fixed January 20, 2022, to commence hearing arguments in the case filed by three public service unions challenging the Government’s COVID-19 Emergency Measures.

The case was filed by Attorney-at-Law Darren Wade on behalf of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU), and the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC). The Unions, collectively, represent thousands of public service employees.

During a Case Management Conference (CMC) held via Zoom on Thursday, Justice George laid out strict timelines by when parties in the matter have to file submissions. The Unions have listed the Attorney General as the lone respondent in their legal action.

In September, Justice Fidela Corbin-Lincoln had denied two interim injunctions against the Government’s vaccination policy which were being sought by the Unions. The Unions had sought an injunction preventing the State from implementing the requirement that public servants show proof of vaccination against the Coronavirus or produce a recent negative PCR test result at their own expense.

They were also seeking an interim injunction forcing the State to bear the cost for regular COVID-19 testing for employees of the State until the court determines an application to the legality of the Government’s COVID-19 Emergency Measures published in the Official Gazette.

The Unions are contending that the COVID-19 Emergency Measures relies on an unconstitutional grant of authority to former President David Granger who issued the first measure in March 2020.  As such, the Unions contend that the Emergency Measures are invalid and void of effect.

In refusing the injunctions, Justice Corbin-Lincoln said that the Unions failed to provide strong prima facie evidence which is required from a party seeking an injunction to restrain the enforcement of a law.

According to her, Governments worldwide have employed various measures to curtail the spread of the virus including quarantine, curfews, mandatory lockdowns, and mask-wearing.

“The introduction of vaccines is the most recent effort to address the pandemic. The court is not deaf to the debate raging around the world [concerning] the efficacy or effectiveness of the vaccines, the legality of mandatory vaccination requirements, and whether the implementation of mandatory vaccination is a reasonable infringement on constitutional rights,” she added.

She, however, pointed out that the issue of the legality of the vaccination requirement in Guyana is still to be determined by a court. As such, the Judge, among other things, held, “It would not be in the stability of the public to grant an interim injunction restraining the Government from implementing any future or even the existing vaccination measures when it is yet to determine whether or not [Granger] acted ultra vires.”

Justice Corbin-Lincoln also noted that the State has a duty to take measures to stop the spread of the deadly virus.

In response to the rise in COVID-19 deaths and cases, the Government mandated that any person wishing to enter a public building must be vaccinated. Unvaccinated persons seeking entry into these buildings must present a recent negative PCR test.

According to the COVID-19 Emergency Measures, a public building refers to a building to which the public has lawful access and includes both privately and publicly-owned buildings. The Government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy had sparked countrywide protests.