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ERG again presses Govt on Covid measures, mulls legal steps

Johnny Bugeja

The Equality Rights Group has again raised concerns about aspects of the Gibraltar Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis which it believes are “disproportionate and incoherent,” adding that it has not ruled out a legal challenge if necessary.

The ERG had previously raised concerns about restrictions on the right to public assembly but said it had received only “cold silence” from the government.

“As a human and civil rights organisation in Gibraltar, this is of concern because of underlying practical implications for the safeguarding of fundamental rights; rights which we all take for granted in our democracy and which, unless those implications are challenged, could lead to gradual and covert erosion of our way of life,' said ERG chair Felix Alvarez.

“As an organisation set up over two decades ago to defend people’s rights, and given the context of recent wide lifting of restrictions, we have therefore written to the Chief Minister asking him again to address outstanding issues of disproportionality, because it is only through dialogue that polarisation of views can be avoided.”

“And there can be little doubt that this is happening.”

“We are once more, therefore, appealing to government’s reasonableness in this respect; but where no engagement is offered, the wisdom of the courts exists, and ERG will seriously consider recourse.”

Mr Alvarez, while acknowledging the government’s “careful management campaign” to control Covid-19, said it was time to address issues that impacted on fundamental freedoms.

He reflected on the recent protest by a group of people under the name of Freedom Gibraltar – they believed the requirement for vaccination to access sporting events was discriminatory – and the Chief Minister’s reminder that constitutional rights could be defended through the courts.

Mr Alvarez said that many people cannot afford the high cost of justice, even though, as Mr Picardo pointed out, legal aid or assistance may be available in limited circumstances.
“Mr Picardo knows this, as do we all,” Mr Alvarez said.

“It is a serious imbalance in our society that while those with surplus personal resources can afford justice, and at the other end of the spectrum, those who are close to recognised poverty may be legally aided, the overwhelming majority of middle income citizens can face the risk of financial ruin in the face of a real hurt or grievance. It is difficult to recognise justice in this.”

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