The fears expressed in some quarters about the Government's motives in calling the state of emergency-and the claims that the Government intends to use this period to crack down on dissent-are unjustified given the constitutional safeguards that are in place.Foreigners living in T&T, looking at events unfolding in Libya, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain-even the recent rioting in England-may believe that the declaration of a state of emergency here is a signal for a serious breakdown in law and order.Fortunately for the citizens of T&T and those resident here, the drafters of our 1976 Republican Constitution spent a great deal of time ensuring that a democratically elected government, faced with internal or external threats, had the power to declare a state of emergency-but that there were safeguards to ensure that that power was not abused.The main safeguard is that the proclamation signed by President George Maxwell Richards "shall not be effective" unless it contains a declaration that the President was satisfied that some person or persons took action, or threatened action, "of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be likely to endanger the public safety or to deprive the community or any substantial portion of the community of supplies or services essential to life."Before he signed the proclamation, the President would have satisfied himself that the public safety was sufficiently endangered or that the community was in substantial threat of being deprived of essential supplies or services.
The second constitutional safeguard afforded the public is the fact that "within three days of the making of the proclamation, the President shall deliver to the Speaker for presentation to the House of Representatives a statement setting out the specific grounds on which the decision to declare the existence of a state of public emergency was based."The Constitution not only ensures that the reasons behind the declaration of the state of emergency must be well known within days of its implementation, there is also a provision for the Speaker to fix a date for a debate on the statement provided by the President "not later than fifteen days from the date of the proclamation."If the Constitution mandates a parliamentary forum for a free and frank debate on the reasons for calling the state of emergency, then a government that caused the declaration of a state of emergency for frivolous and vexatious reasons would certainly be risking its credibility.The Constitution envisages that in a state of emergency people would be lawfully detained by virtue of the State of Emergency Regulations.But the Constitution also requires that the Chief Justice would appoint a tribunal that must be both "independent and impartial" which would review the circumstances of the detention of people during the state of emergency.The Constitution also gives the tribunal appointed by the Chief Justice the ability to review the case of any detained person and "make recommendations concerning the necessity or expediency of continuing his detention to the authority."The Chief Justice must appoint the members of tribunal from among the persons entitled to practise in Trinidad and Tobago as barristers or solicitors.The fears expressed are not justified given the robustness of the constitutional safeguards as they pertain to the calling of the state of emergency.