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Monday 25 March 2019
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Editorial

Turtle in court clothes

WE COMMEND the authorities for enforcing this country’s environmental laws against four men who were this week found with a green sea turtle and who appeared in court, along with the turtle, on Tuesday – as exclusively reported in yesterday’s edition of Newsday.

Although this was a rare instance in which the story had a happy ending, we question why it was necessary, as a legal requirement, for the turtle to be hauled to court as an exhibit. Are our court processes so arcane? It would seem that while our environmental laws have advanced, courtroom procedure is lagging far behind. Call it a case of the tortoise and the hare.

The four men appeared at the Point Fortin Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday charged with an offence under the Environmental Management Act. The very purpose of the act is to protect environmentally sensitive species by banning activity that interferes with them and their habitat. It strikes us as contradictory for the State, in enforcing this law, to subject a sensitive animal to the unnecessary upheaval represented by an appearance in a courthouse. While green turtles can survive out of the water, they are sensitive to some things, particularly light.

The matter goes beyond one species, though. Surely, there are other cases, from time to time, in which a similar procedure is adopted. In this era of digital photography and in which advances have been made in how evidence is taken before judges and magistrates, there is no good reason why we cannot adopt modes of implementing the law so as not to require the spectacle of animals being brought to court.

Measures such as the introduction of judge-alone trials represent important attempts to modernise. But clearly, there is room for improvement when it comes to the bread and butter of any court procedure: the entering of evidence into the record.

In a way, then, the long journey of the green turtle that appeared before Magistrate Rajendra Rambachan is emblematic of the challenges facing our judicial system. And those challenges seem infinite: like the proverb about watching turtles all the way down.

While there has been much furore surrounding the question of the composition of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission in the wake of the recent ruling of the Privy Council, that matter pales in comparison to the extraordinary failure of governments to modernise the way basic functions are performed in court. And the Privy Council itself has suggested the Interpretation Act saves past appointments made to the JLSC, and therefore subsequent actions and orders issued by appointees under the flawed body.

Therefore, both Government and Opposition activists would do well to focus on matters that are really crying out for attention so that the days when even turtles must wear court clothes become a thing of the past.

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