By Ghadeer Ghloum
KUWAIT: In Kuwait, a lack of adherence to the law has become common among legal professionals who are supposed to uphold the law. This irony has significant negative consequences, especially since legal professionals serve as unique example of validating the law, ensuring professionalism and public safety based on the legal system.
Due to the nature of legal professionals’ work, the court is seen as a respectful institution. Thus, smoking within court premises dishonors the sanctity of the place. By smoking in undesignated areas, legal professionals may unintentionally undermine the public’s trust in the legitimacy of the judicial system. Multiple lawyers expressed their objection and dissatisfaction with this matter to Kuwait Times, emphasizing on the necessity of enforcing the law.
Smoking inside the courts undermines the dignity of the law
Secretary of Kuwait Environment Protection Society, lawyer Shoug Shabkouh, told Kuwait Times the law serves public interest, individuals and society, and prevails over personal interests. Therefore, certain acts are considered crimes and have deterrent penalties to prevent the spread of negative phenomena in society. Cigarettes, in fact, ignite the anger of the law. Smoking in enclosed and semi-enclosed public places has become a negative and widespread phenomenon. Some smokers disregard the health of individuals and society, causing serious harm to both individuals and the environment.
Recently, this phenomenon has been noticed in courts, where the law should be respected more than anywhere else. The court represents the dignity of the law and issues judgments against the violators of that law. Courts are considered closed spaces where smoking is prohibited, as stated in article 56 of environmental protection law no. 42 of 2014, amended by law no. 99 of 2015. It states that smoking is strictly prohibited in public transportation and enclosed and semi-enclosed public places, except in designated areas according to the regulations determined by the executive regulations of this law.
Article 138 of the same law addresses the punishment for smoking. The smoker is subject to a fine of not less than KD 50 and not exceeding KD 100. Furthermore, the law has given the environmental police the authority to issue citations against violators of this law. Despite the existence of a law that criminalizes smoking, some smokers show a lack of social responsibility and do not care about the health of others. Despite the presence of many designated smoking areas and warning signs indicating the illegality of the act, some individuals refrain from smoking in designated areas and smoke in courtrooms, staircases and corridors without considering the consequences of their selfish actions.
They put the health and safety of others at risk, leading to respiratory diseases and exposing them to secondhand smoke, which can cause heart diseases and cancers. Shabkouh added that for every problem, there is a solution. The solution lies in increasing awareness of the negative effects of this phenomenon and installing surveillance cameras in the areas where smoking is banned by the law to monitor violations and assist judicial police officers.
Real-life incident: Disregarding the rules
Aisha Al-Awadhi, a lawyer, shared with Kuwait Times an incident that happened at Kuwait’s Palace of Justice: “On my way down the stairs, I came across an employee who has placed a chair for himself to sit and smoke in the hallway. While he was doing so, I passed by and I was bothered by the smell of smoke, so I asked him to put out the cigarette to avoid harming people passing through the hallway. But the smoker replied he will not put out the cigarette and asked me what I would do about it, stating he will not quit smoking and will do whatever he wants.
I replied to him that smoking is prohibited by law and if he is not aware of that, I can call the environmental police to prove it. “At that point, he replied he will come with me to the police station himself. We went together to the police station and while walking there, I called 112 (the emergency line). When I entered the police office (the palace police), I saw a policeman was also smoking inside the office. I asked him to put out the cigarette as well.
He did as I asked, then asked me about the problem. I explained that I wanted the environmental police to come and issue a citation. “During that time, the emergency line was with me on the call, so the officer asked me to give him my mobile phone and he spoke to the operations and told them that he is a policeman from the palace police and that the matter is under their control and attention, so there is no need for intervention, and ended the call. He then took me to the office of the officer in charge of the courthouse.
I explained to him as well that it is necessary to issue a citation to those who violate the law and smoke in closed places where smoking is prohibited, especially since I am one of the individuals affected by this matter. “That day, I was very busy and couldn’t give this issue much time because I had work to complete. But I did what I could, as I made an oral complaint to the security and safety supervisor at the courthouse, and he told me that they have requested the presence of an environmental police office at our location because this is a problem that bothers many individuals.
The supervisor did not disregard it, and in the end, I hope there will be a serious stance on this issue.” Furthermore, Awadhi highlighted the necessity of taking the law and its penalties more seriously, where the violator is punished for their unlawful actions. This would have a significant positive impact. She also suggested that the person responsible for this matter should be a non-smoker, as they may be more understanding and responsive to non-smoking people’s complaints.
Attorney Hmoud Al-Failkawi also mentioned his suffering and dissatisfaction over people smoking in non-designated areas, especially in courts, which are considered a good example for society. He also expressed his rejection of some environmental policemen who hesitate to enforce violations against smokers in non-designated areas, perhaps out of fear of certain positions or for other reasons. Failakawi then emphasized that everyone must adhere to the law regardless of their position, and it is the responsibility of the police officers to carry out their duties as the law guarantees them the right to confront violators.
Individuals’ freedoms and social responsibility
People have the right to enjoy their freedom by doing what they please as long as their actions do not harm others. When other individuals are negatively affected by those actions, this freedom will be limited according to social responsibility that secures everyone’s benefit.
This point was highlighted by international lawyer Bedour Al-Rasheed, who agreed with the abovementioned attorneys. “It is the responsibility of every person to exercise their personal freedom within limits that do not exceed or harm the rights and freedoms of others. The phenomenon of smoking has spread greatly recently, despite the existence of the general environmental authority law’s article 3, which prohibits smoking at government and private facilities.
Unfortunately, we see that the law is not enforced and smoking has increased in courts, causing harm to us (non-smoking lawyers) in terms of health and environment, as well as presenting an uncivilized sight of smoking by some colleagues, employees and visitors,” she said. “Smoking poses a danger to everyone, especially pregnant women, the elderly and children. Those who choose to smoke bear the responsibility for its harms, but what fault does someone have in choosing to live a healthy life and preserve the environment?”
Rasheed further emphasized that smoking in the courtroom affects peoples’ health, the environment, and the overall reputation and development of the country. “It should be noted that courts are always crowded with people of all nationalities and social classes, which makes failure to abide by laws within the court very crucial,” she said.
Haya Al-Mutairi, who is also a lawyer, added: “As lawyers, we often find ourselves in courtrooms and prosecution offices on daily basis, where we encounter visitors from various backgrounds who violate the regulations that are set to organize people’s presence inside these enclosed spaces. Also, we sometimes come across violators in the hallways. What makes the matter worse is when a smoking legal professional joins us during the hours of investigation with our clients.
These individuals are unaware that some of us suffer from asthma, allergies or respiratory diseases, which can lead to complications or adversely affect those who have quit smoking. Some courts have resorted to employing a police officer within the court to immediately penalize anyone who exhibits such behavior outside the designated smoking areas.
This is a commendable practice that we hope will continue and expand.” Attorney Laalea Al-Khudairi emphasized on this matter: “According to statistics from the World Health Organization, exposure of non-smokers to smoke leads to 600,000 premature deaths annually, with women accounting for 64 percent of these deaths.”
Enforcing the law
Attorney and consultant on the women, family and children committee of the Kuwaiti National Assembly Athra’a Al-Refaie expressed her objection to smoking inside the court, and further clarified about the laws in this regard, as she said everyone is aware of the damages caused by smoking in enclosed spaces and the resulting health hazards for both smokers and non-smokers. Therefore, legislators paid attention and set environmental protection law no. 42 of 2014, which prohibits smoking in enclosed spaces.
They also banned advertising and promotion of smoking and imposed stricter penalties. Thus, we find legal provisions and executive regulations prohibit smoking in public places and public transportation, and impose penalties of not less than KD 50,000 and not exceeding KD 200,000 for violating the ban on advertising and promoting cigarettes and the ban on smoking in enclosed public places and semi-enclosed places, as well as public transportation. As mentioned earlier, the penalty for smoking in enclosed public places and semi-enclosed places, as well as public transportation, is not less than KD 50 and not exceeding KD 100.
The responsibility for the violation also extends to the manager responsible of the establishment, who will face a fine of not less than KD 1,000 and not exceeding KD 5,000. The law also granted the environmental police the authority to issue penalties to those who commit such violations. However, their absence from court buildings has led some individuals to commit these violations without the slightest respect for those around them.
“Therefore, we demand that the authorities enforce stricter measures and send environmental police officers to prevent smoking in court buildings due to the environmental and health hazards it causes for those around them,” Refaie said. Concurring, Khudairi said: “Despite all legislative efforts, violations continue. A court ruling was previously issued obligating the ministry of justice to allocate smoking areas at Farwaniya and Jahra courts, but they were not adhered to.
It is difficult for us as lawyers to file a complaint because the requirement of judicial jurisdiction, mandated by the environmental protection law, is not available.” Similarly, attorney Haya Al-Ajmi said: “We still witness some uncivilized scenes in courts where some members of the ministry of interior, ministry of justice and some colleagues smoke inside the court premises without consideration for others.
It is worth noting that there are designated smoking rooms, yet the corridors and halls of the court are still filled with smokers. Therefore, there should be a dedicated environmental police office at all courts to ensure the enforcement of the law, as the court is a prestigious judicial institution and an important face of the state.”