One of Malta’s foremost human rights experts, retired judge Giovanni Bonello, has played down privacy concerns about the implications of COVID-19 home inspections.
Questioned by Lovin Malta, the former European Court of Human Rights judge said that while the rights to privacy and to the respect of one’s home are fundamental human rights, protected by Article 8 of the Convention, they are not absolute rights.
“The state can legitimately restrict their enjoyment if three conditions concur,” Bonello argued.
“The restriction must firstly be authorized by law. It must secondly be necessary in a democratic society. And thirdly it must be in the interest of a listed scope. Among the listed interests are ‘the protection of health’ and ‘the protection of the rights of others’.:
“So yes, COVID-19 inspections are justified exceptions to the rights of privacy and respect for the home.”
He added that the inspections must be carried out strictly for the stated purposes and in the least intrusive manner possible, as although they’re permissible in the circumstances of a pandemic, they remain an encroachment of fundamental human rights.
“Strict instruction is to be given and followed to ensure these results,” he said.
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.
A total of 92 people were fined for breaching the private household rule over the past week, down from 172 the previous week.
Activist group Civil Society Network recently called for safeguards with regards to home inspections, warning the need to curb the spread of coronavirus shouldn’t be carried out at the expense of fundamental human rights.
Do you think safeguards should be introduced to regulate the way authorities inspect homes for COVID-19 breaches?