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Tuesday 22 October 2019
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FFOS takes EMA to court over environmental reports

Hall of Justice, Port of Spain
Hall of Justice, Port of Spain

ARE environmental impact assessments subject to copyright laws?

This is the question a High Court judge will be asked to consider in a lawsuit filed by environmental lobby group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS).

The FFOS is seeking an order that the Environmental Management Authority (EMA)’s policy of not allowing it to obtain full complete copies of EIAs would be detrimental to good administration and an order that the authority’s decision, reasons and policy that the EIAs were subject to copyright are wrong in law and that EIAs are not subject to copyright by virtue of the EMA Act, the Freedom of Information Act and the Copyright Act.

In its lawsuit, the FFOS is also seeking both a temporary and a permanent injunction preventing the EMA from issuing certificates of EIA for any project for which an EIA is required when the group has asked for it and was refused.

Hearing of the injunction applications will be held in October, but Justice Devindra Rampersad granted the FFOS leave to file for judicial review challenging the EMA’s decision to refuse its numerous requests for copies of EIAs.

Among the permissions granted to the FFOS to file for judicial review is an order ordering the EMA to provide to the FFOS a copy of the EIA for the integrated resort development of the Golden Grove and Buccoo Estates in Tobago.

FFOS has 14 days in which to file its application for judicial review. The group is represented by Queen’s Counsel Anand Beharrylal and Alvin Pariagsingh.

In its claim, the FFOS said for approximately 20 years, up to November 2018, it had received, without hindrance, access to EIAs and was even allowed to take whole copies of a report, subject to photocopying charges.

It said it requested the report on the Tobago development project but was told it could only copy ten per cent of the EIA, per member of the public or organisation, regardless of how many visits were made.

The consequence of this, the FFOS said, was that at least ten visits by ten separate people were now required to secure a whole copy of an EIA. It sought to clarify the position and was told, belatedly, that the EMA was seeking to recalibrate its library policies and practices to better align them with the law referring to the EMA, FOIA and Copyright Acts. The FFOS said, in essence, the EMA asserted that EIAs were subject to copyright.

The FFOS also said it has been actively involved in the review of EIAs and has availed itself of professional and scientific opinions to guide reviews on EIAs. It said it was not practical for a foreign expert to review a whole EIA at the national registry of the EMA when such assessments contain thousands of pages, covering a varied range of environmental and technical matters.

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