Activist group Civil Society Network has warned the way COVID-19 home inspections are being carried out is in breach of fundamental human rights to privacy.
“CSN laments the lack of safeguards with regards to house visits authorised by delegated laws by the Superintendent of Public Health,” the group said. “While CSN appreciates the pressing social need to curb the spread of coronavirus, this should not be done at the expense of fundamental rights.”
“The fundamental right to private life protects the sanctity of home. During a state of emergency, rights can be limited because of legislative powers associated with emergencies. Since this has been revoked, any emergency measures must also end now that we are in a legal state of normalcy, at the risk of undermining the rule of law.”
Prime Minister Robert Abela yesterday said he’s confident that recent powers given to police, soldiers and other enforcement officials to inspect private homes for breaches of COVID-19 rules don’t go against human rights.
“Our belief is that one cannot speak of a breach of fundamental human rights because such action is permitted by law,” he said in response to a question from Lovin Malta.
Indeed, the Public Health Act allows the Superintendent of Public Health and other authorised officers to enter and inspect any area at any “reasonable” time, even if a public health emergency hasn’t been declared.
CSN called for safeguards to regulate the use of this power, such as clear public guidelines which the authorities must follow before entering anyone’s home.
They also called for the establishment of a monitoring mechanism to hold the authorities accountable for this power, and said everyone subjected to a search should be able to appeal or complain based on clear public rules.
“While agreeing with Minister Fearne and shares his privacy concerns, CSN disagrees completely with Prime Minister Robert Abela when he suggests that just because something is prescribed by law, it does not raise any legal concerns,” the activist group said.
“We believe that this interference, despite being prescribed by law, is not necessary in a democratic society and more safeguards are needed for fundamental human rights to be respected.”
On 17th March, Malta restricted gatherings in private residences to a maximum of two households to contain the spread of the pandemic, with a €100 fine for every person caught in breach of the law.
Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci has confirmed that police, soldiers, environmental health officers, and officials from LESA, Transport Malta and the Malta Tourism Authority have been empowered to inspect homes for potential breaches.
Recent data shows that 172 people were fined for breaching the private household rule in a single week, between 29th March and 4th April.
Do you think safeguards should be introduced to regulate the way authorities inspect homes for COVID-19 breaches?