In the wake of Singapore actor Nick Mikhail’s case, who posted videos on Instagram showing how the authorities conducted an impromptu inspection at his home on 31 July, The Straits Times (ST) has published an article on Sunday (8 Aug) to elucidate one’s legal rights if safe distancing enforcement officers want to enter his or her home.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has earlier clarified that safe distancing enforcement officers can enter, inspect, and search various premises, including residences, without a warrant to check that COVID-19 regulations are being complied with.
Section 35(5) of the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020, which was passed in Parliament in April last year, states that “an enforcement officer has all the powers of a Health Officer authorised under sections 55A, 55B and 57 of the Infectious Diseases Act for the purposes of ascertaining whether the control order is being complied with”.
According to Sections 55A, 55B and 57 of the Infectious Diseases Act, the powers are including:
- To furnish any information within his knowledge;
- At any time without warrants and with such force as may be necessary, stop, board, enter, inspect and search any premises or conveyance;
- Demand any person to give his name and address, and other proof of identity
Section 35(1) of the COVID-19 Act said that the individuals who can be appointed as enforcement officers include, police officers, public officers, officers of statutory bodies, auxiliary police officers, among others.
This has triggered public concern over the laws, with many of them asking how to identify safe distancing enforcement officers, and whether homeowners are even allowed to deny enforcement officers’ entry into their homes.
In its report, ST quoted lawyer Johannes Hadi, who noted that individuals cannot deny an enforcement officer entry into their residences without reasonable excuse.
“An example of a reasonable excuse may be genuine doubt as to their identity,” the report stated.
Section 35 (9) of the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act also states that “an individual commits an offence if he or she, without reasonable excuse, refuses or fails to comply with a direction of an enforcement officer given to the individual”.
Those who commit such offences will face a fine of up to S$10,000, or a jail term of up to six months, or both for first-time offenders. A subsequent offence will lead to a fine not exceeding S$20,000, or to an imprisonment term of up to 12 months, or both.
As for how to identify an enforcement officer, NEA stated on its website that enforcement officers can be spotted wearing their respective agencies’ corporate attire, staff pass or lanyard. They will also carry enforcement officer passes and may additionally wear a red armband.
ST’s report highlighted that people can also request official identification – which will show the officer’s name, photograph, designation, and institution – from an enforcement officer should they have doubts about an officer’s identity.
“If you continue to have doubts about the veracity of the officer’s identity, politely ask them to wait outside the premises while you call either their purported institution or the police for assistance,” it stated.
In the event that homeowners believe that enforcement officers have overstepped their boundaries or behaved inappropriately while on duty, ST noted that homeowners can file a report to the officer’s institution or to the police.
“Enforcement officers are protected from liability in the discharge of their duties if they act in good faith or exercise reasonable care,” it highlighted.
Homeowners can also seek legal advice from a lawyer to understand any recourse they may have under the law, and are advised to keep a record of the incident as evidence, such as CCTV or phone footage, audio recordings and photographs, said ST.
Netizens further question: Any background checks done on enforcement officers before they were hired?
It appears that there are still some unanswered questions, as many netizens commenting on the article asked if safe distancing enforcement officers are well-trained like the police to be allowed to enter homes without warrants.
Some netizens questioned if the government has even conducted background checks on enforcement officers before hiring them, while several others raised concerns about potential crimes like “impersonating officers”.
One netizen asked: “Question for me is how does the G vet through the backgrounds of the enforcement officers? Is there background checks before hiring? The risk is way too high here when they enter our safe haven.”
“So can my teenagers deny access if they are home alone? Taking of photos too should be limited and only under specific circumstances if no offence was committed no photos is required for evidence? Cause they could be taking photos for their own purpose. What about missing items? This is an open invitation to crime,” she added.
A few netizens think that ST’s article has given the impression that members of the public have no legal rights if enforcement officers want to enter their homes.