The government has revised proposed penalties for businesses that flout decrees aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus so as to take into account the size of the venue while giving police the authority to suspend the operation of an establishment without securing a court order.
A previous bill, sent to the House as a matter of urgency in anticipation it would be approved before last weekend, had ran into difficulty in the House Legal Affairs committee after MPs said it was unreasonable that a small neighbourhood coffee shop should be subject to the same, severe penalties as a huge establishment.
The issue became even more pressing after a Protaras venue was fined five times for breaking the decree, with police unable to close it down even temporarily under the current legal framework, having to wait until courts reopened on Tuesday to ask (and obtain) an injunction.
Images and videos of the venue posted on social media showing hundreds breaking social distancing rules prompted sharp criticism from ministers and experts, and calls on deputies to give police power to act.
The issue was back in committee today, with Justice Minister Yiorgos Savvides issuing a written statement noting MPs’ suggestion that out of court fines be linked to the size of the business and the fact that the three day weekend particularly had shown the need for police to be able to act immediately to end any violation of the law.
The government had therefore drawn up proposals to amend the government bill.
He said he had made the following proposals:
- businesses will be divided in four categories depending on the space available for guests. Fines will be set depending on whether it is a first, second or third offence and based on the size of each business. Fines will range from €750 to €4000. The fine will double for a second offence and triple for a third or additional offence
- as regards the decree to suspend the operation of a business, given the practical difficulty of having to submit a criminal case in court on weekends or public holidays, the proposal is for two other options: a) for police to be be able to apply to court for an injunction suspending the operation of business without needing first to submit a criminal case. This will allow courts to issue injunctions on weekends and holidays. The criminal case can be submitted later or alternatively b) the chief of police to authorise police officers to suspend operation of a business without needing to go to court, along the lines of health and safety at work legislation. in this instance, where there is a violation of the law, it can be immediately dealt with by police. There will be a right to appeal and any closure will be for a short time, he added.
“We believe this bill fully and comprehensively covers cases of violations of the quarantine law, provides for proportionate penalties which will work as a deterrent and at the same time end the illegality,” the minister said.
Savvides said committee members had reacted positively to the proposals and asked they be submitted within the day so that they can discuss them as soon as possible in committee.