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Some among the legal fraternity are not agreeing with the provisions of the penal code that the Attorney General said his office would strictly adhere to if people breach lockdown protocols.

The concern in the application of the law given the complication of the cases and also the uncertainties surrounding the Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The two penal provisions are quite clear. One, section 410, concerns, in this case, people knowingly or recklessly creating conditions including spreading the coronavirus virus and thereby endangering the safety of public health. The other, 448 is failing to abide by government orders issued in the interest of public safety, public order and tranquillity.

Violating 410 is a fourth degree criminal offense that carries a prison term between three and five years. The later, 448 is graded a petty misdemeanour liable for imprisonment term of three months to a year.

The penal provisions are not new. People are reminded of it with the risk of spreading Covid-19 in the community. While the hope is that nobody would come into conflict with the laws the concerns are genuine.

Laws are there to not punish people. It is to prevent getting into trouble. A lot will depend on how we interpret and implement it. The concerns are on the discrepancies. A 16-year-old student worried of missing school was penalized for violating section 410. A father is imprisoned for trying to quench the thirst of his five-year-old son. They have technically violated laws by crossing the border. They have not contacted the disease nor had the intention to spoil the tranquility and spread dangerous diseases.

The penal provisions initially tried to discourage people from crossing the international border. It was to prevent people from getting infected and bring it back home. Now the attention is on the two red dzongkhags. Given the risk of the disease, we ought to be careful and remind people of laws.

While the hope is nobody would deliberately violate laws, it is good to hear that the OAG would prove beyond reasonable doubt, that a person had knowingly created conditions or spread the disease. In the case in Thimphu, the person under investigation, tested positive after he visited places including outside his zone. if he had tested positive, he would have been in isolation.

The recent surge in cases has forced us to leave no stone unturned in preventing further transmission and save the country and the people from the Covid-19 scourge. There will be people, knowingly or unknowingly that come in conflict with laws.

What we can be confident of is the independence of the judiciary. Our Drangpons who preside over the cases could use their independence and wisdom in interpreting and applying the legal provisions.

To quote a maxim popular among the judiciary, it is better to let hundred criminals go scot free than convicting  a single innocent.

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