Avatar Centre for Policy Alternatives on 21 April, 2020

Curfew in response to COVID-19: Legal Framework and Relevant Questions in Sri Lanka

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Curfews, which are generally understood to be a government regulation requiring people to remain indoors during specified hours, are a means of restricting the fundamental freedom of free movement, in view of a greater public aim such as ensuring public health, national security, public safety and such purposes. Whilst such restrictions are permissible, they must adhere to the principles of legality and proportionality. In Sri Lanka, the power of imposing curfew has been exercised by the Executive President and the Police.

On 20th March 2020, the Government of Sri Lanka made a public announcement of imposing ‘curfew’. Whilst the reason for imposing such restrictions on movement due to the public health emergency is not questioned, the Government has failed to provide the legal framework used to provide for such ‘curfew’ and with it raising questions of its legality.[1] The following is a brief timeline relevant to the present ‘curfew’.

  • 18 March 2020 :   Police curfew in the Puttalam District and Kochchikade Police Division in Negombo until further notice.[2]
  • 19 March 2020: Police curfew in Puttalam, Chilaw, Negombo-Kochchikade to be temporarily lifted while curfew imposed within the Ja-Ela and Wattala Police Divisions.[3]
  • 20 March 2020: Island-wide curfew imposed till 23 March 2020.[4]
  • 23 March 2020: Curfew imposed in the country temporarily lifted for a period of 8 hours except for 8 districts.[5]
  • 24 March 2020: Curfew imposed in 8 districts temporarily lifted for a period of 8 hours. Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara districts were identified as high-risk areas for COVID-19 and the curfew imposed on those districts was to be continued until further notice.[6]
  • 30 March 2020: Curfew temporarily lifted in all but 6 districts.[7]
  • 6 April 2020: Curfew temporarily lifted for 8 hours in all but 6 districts.[8]
  • 7 April 2020: President’s Media Division (PMD) announced the publishing of circular specifying new regulations for issuing curfew passes.[9][10]
  • 9 April 2020: Curfew in 19 districts temporarily lifted.[11]
  • 16 April 2020: Curfew in 19 districts temporarily lifted.[12]
  • 19 April 2020:  Government decides to relax the ongoing curfew in several districts and police divisions[13]
  • 20 April 2020:Curfew which was set to be lifted on the 22nd of April (in 4 districts) extended until the 27th of April[14].

At the time of writing this guide, the Government has announced measures to relax the ongoing ‘curfew’ in some areas[15], however, there is still no information publicly available as to the legislative framework used when imposing the said ‘curfew’. In the absence of this information, questions are raised as to whether the ‘curfew’ is legally valid. This will raise several difficulties for public officials if attempts are made to prosecute the 33,155[16]persons arrested for violating the ‘curfew’ and raise further concerns if a need arises to continue/impose curfew in the coming weeks and months.

In this guide, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) briefly examines the legal framework relating to the imposition of curfew and related questions that require attention.Whilst CPA notes that some measures are needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic including limiting movement, it is paramount that any steps taken are in adherence to the constitutional and legal framework.

Download the guide in full as a PDF here

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[1]The press release issued by the Acting Inspector General of Police, stated that ‘Police Curfew’ has been imposed for the whole island with a view to prevent violation of provisions and regulations of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance imposed for prevention of COVID19.However, the legal basis for imposition of such curfew has not been cited.

See, ‘Press Release 2020.03.20’ (Department of Government Information, 2020) <https://www.dgi.gov.lk/news/press-releases-sri-lanka?start=5> accessed 15 April 2020.

[2]‘Police Curfew To Be Imposed In Puttalam, Chilaw&Negombo-Kochchikade’ (Adaderana.lk, 2020) <http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=61497> accessed 14 April 2020.

[3]‘Police Curfew In Puttalam, Chilaw, Negombo-Kochchikade To Be Temporarily Lifted’ (Adaderana.lk, 2020) <http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=61526> accessed 14 April 2020.

[4]‘Island-Wide Curfew To Be Imposed Until Monday’ (Adaderana.lk, 2020) <http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=61577> accessed 14 April 2020.

[5]‘Curfew Temporarily Lifted Except For 8 Districts’ (Adaderana.lk, 2020) <http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=61707> accessed 14 April 2020.

[6]‘Colombo, Gampaha&Kalutara Districts Classified COVID-19 High Risk Zones; Curfew Until Further Notice’ (Adaderana.lk, 2020) <http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=61771> accessed 14 April 2020.

[7]‘Curfew Temporarily Lifted In All But 6 Districts’ (Adaderana.lk, 2020) <http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=62017> accessed 14 April 2020.

[8]‘Curfew In 6 Districts To Continue Until Further Notice’ (Adaderana.lk, 2020) <http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=62269> accessed 14 April 2020.

[9]‘New Regulations For Issuing Curfew Passes Announced’ (Adaderana.lk, 2020) <http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=62368> accessed 14 April 2020.

[10]‘Curfew_Pass_Instruction.Pdf’ (www.police.lk, 2020) <https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pctm6WXKu2FJaf7axPiQDs6KNErX4nmg/view> accessed 9 April 2020.

[11]‘Curfew In 19 Districts Temporarily Lifted’ (Adaderana.lk, 2020) <http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=62420> accessed 15 April 2020.

[12]‘Curfew In 19 Districts Temporarily Relaxed Until 4Pm’ (Adaderana.lk, 2020) <http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=62672> accessed 18 April 2020.

[13]‘Curfew In Several Districts And Police Areas To Be Relaxed’ (Adaderana.lk, 2020) <http://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=62771> accessed 18 April 2020.

[14]In all other districts, the curfew will be effective from 8.00pm to 5.00am till Friday, the April 24th.

See,’Curfew In Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Puttalam Districts Extended Till April 27′ (Adaderana.lk, 2020) <http://www.adaderana.lk/news/62818/curfew-in-colombo-gampaha-kalutara-puttalam-districts-extended-till-april-27> accessed 20 April 2020.

[15]‘Curfew Regulations Relaxed To Restore Normalcy In Civilian Life – President’s Media Division’ (President’s Media Division, 2020) <http://www.pmdnews.lk/curfew-regulations-relaxed-to-restore-normalcy-in-civilian-life/> accessed 19 April 2020.

[16] Total number of arrests made over curfew violations since 20th March 2020 (as at 6 a.m. on 19.04.2020)

See, ‘Sri Lanka : Police Arrest 1,475 People For Violating Curfew In Last 24 Hours’ (Colombopage.com, 2020) <http://www.colombopage.com/archive_20A/Apr19_1587309025CH.php> accessed 20 April 2020.