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Saturday, 28 March 2020

Criminal Offences for Infecting others with COVID-19

Can persons like Crime Watch host, Ian Alleyne and the police officer from the Arouca Police Station be arrested for potentially putting so many people’s lives at risk by not abiding by the government’s mandatory self-quarantine directive?

This is a VERY interesting question!

There are possibly two offences under which both individuals and others like them can be charged and prosecuted:

According to section 12 of the Offences against the Person Act 1925, as amended:
12. Any person who unlawfully and maliciously by any means whatsoever wounds or causes any grievous bodily harm to any person… is liable to imprisonment for fifteen years.

Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH), in simple terms, is defined as “really serious harm”. Therefore, considering the permanent (if not fatal) damage being done by the novel coronavirus, reckless or intentional transmission of the virus to another person can be classified as really serious harm. A similar interpretation was used in the case of R v Dica [2004]at the England & Wales Court of Appeal:

The person bringing the appeal against his initial conviction (the Appellant), Mr. Mohammed Dica, was HIV-positive. He engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse with two women, both of whom later tested positive for HIV.

It was not clear whether the women (the Complainants) were aware of the Appellant’s HIV status at the time of the encounters; however, the prosecution did not argue that the Appellant intended to transmit HIV to the Complainants, instead, they argued that he was “reckless” as to whether they might contract the disease.

The trial court withdrew from the jury the issue of whether the Complainants knew the Appellant was HIV-positive and thus consented to the risk of transmission of the disease, and subsequently held that whether or not the Complainants knew the Appellant was HIV-positive was irrelevant because they did not have “the legal capacity to consent to such serious harm.”

The Appellant was convicted of two counts of causing grievous bodily harm and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment.

Whilst there is a possibility that Crime Watch host, Ian Alleyne and the police officer from the Arouca Police Station can be charged with GBH, only a good legal test in court will determine if GBH can apply to non-sexually transmitted infectious diseases like COVID-19.

The second possible charge comes under the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005, as amended:

A “terrorist” includes a person who—
(a) commits a terrorist act by any means directly or indirectly, unlawfully and wilfully;
 A “terrorist act” means—
(a) an act whether committed in or outside of Trinidad and Tobago which causes or is likely to cause—
(i) loss of human life or serious bodily harm;
(ii) …
(iii) prejudice to national security or disruption of public safety including disruption in the provision of emergency services or to any computer or electronic system or to the provision of services directly related to banking, communications, infrastructure, financial services, public utilities, transportation or other essential infrastructure, and is intended to—
(iv) …
(v) …
Furthermore, if intention can be proven (which is unlikely):
22. (1) A person who, unlawfully and intentionally uses, threatens or attempts or conspires to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons
(a) against a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago or a person ordinarily resident in Trinidad and Tobago while either such person is outside Trinidad and Tobago;
(b) against any person within Trinidad and Tobago; or
(c) against any property that is owned, leased or used by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, whether the property is within or outside of Trinidad and Tobago, commits an offence and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life.

According to the World Health Organisation, Biological weapons are microorganisms like virus, bacteria, fungi, or other toxins that are produced and released deliberately to cause disease and death in humans, animals or plants. 

Bioterrorism attacks could also result in an epidemic, for example if Ebola or Lassa viruses were used as the biological agents. 

The terrorism charge is less likely considering the fact that the ‘intentional’ factor does not seem to exist in either case, but, similar to the United States, it may be considered in extremecases where intention is palpable.

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