Morality of old, obsolete laws

In this April 2018 file photo, LGBTQI protesters stand near the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain during a hearing on the constitutionality of TT’s buggery law. In September, that year, a judge amended the laws to make consensual sex in same-sex unions legal. -
In this April 2018 file photo, LGBTQI protesters stand near the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain during a hearing on the constitutionality of TT’s buggery law. In September, that year, a judge amended the laws to make consensual sex in same-sex unions legal. -

While the last of the Carnival faery dust fades and swollen and blistered feet shrink back to the size that allows real shoes to fit, emphasis shifts once more to the pressures and problems of day-to-day life. Because of the unwritten national acceptance of disregard of hundreds of laws and legalities, rules and regulations, over Carnival (coming back from J’Ouvert one year with friends we came across the then attorney general asleep on a doorstep on Abercromby Street in Port of Spain. Out of respect we covered his face up with a newspaper blowing in the wind so he would not get burnt by the sun) it takes a little while for the legalities and conventions of urban existence to reassert themselves.

Among these are old laws that may suddenly spring unexpectedly to be launched against the unwary whose only intimacy with the law comes from watching the TV series called Law and Order,in the old days in which such precepts as “ignorance of the law is no excuse” were sternly embedded in our minds. Some are so out of date as to have been forgotten. The law against breach of promise, for example. Especially promise to marry. Actions against such breaches are still taking place…especially after Carnival, but they are seldom carried to fruition or to court. We still have on the law books laws against advertising billboards that can distract drivers of vehicles in such a way as to endanger passengers, I am told, although I have never seen them implemented.

There are laws against cutting a private road into a highway or major thoroughfare although I counted 12 going over Lady Young between the Hilton roundabout and the traffic lights by the car wash on the other side of the hill.

There are certainly laws against being visibly drunk in a public place, against playing a musical or noisy instrument in a vehicle without the permission of the Licensing Authority, against telling fortunes, washing your car on the street, and allowing your child – if she is over five years old – from going outside without any clothes on. I wonder if that includes your seventeen-and-a-half-year-old daughter dressed in a G-string and a couple of strategically placed sequins crossing the stage on Carnival Tuesday? Probably not.

There is also a law against begging which cannot include midnight robbers and against sleeping in a public place (which would include Abercromby Street). We have, as an IMF consultant once wryly noted, a culture that “distinguishes against avoiding law, which is illegal, and evading it, which isn’t.” Or, in local parlance: “monkey know which tree to climb.”

In this May 2018 file photo, members of the TT Council of Churches lobby Government to maintain the country’s buggery sodomy laws in march in Port of Spain. In September, that year, a judge amended the laws to make consensual sex in same-sex unions legal. -

Carnival is Carnival, after all, and as Mr (Basdeo) Panday said in another context: “It has a morality of its own.”

There are employment laws, however, that are obsolete and remain on the law books year after year despite all stakeholders’ pleas to have them updated. They had substance when enacted decades ago, but times have changed, the social, economic, and industrial environments have all changed, some faster than we ever expected. Laws change more slowly and for a good reason, but sometimes necessary changes do not take place because of what is regarded as simple political expediency. As a logical result the laws that guide, regulate and restrict in these areas await enlightenment by legislators. The laws against fornication, against marijuana, against homosexuality, against leading donkey carts on the road are all obsolete in today’s world where human rights and the right to privacy are universally acknowledged. Some of our laws have changed as a result. Some have not.

The most frequently cited are the ones that most affect employers and employees who have been praying for amendments over and over for years only to be told: “Yes, Yes. We are working on it” to end up as so many other things do with a bland: “Sorry, this is an election year. You understand, it just cannot be done now.”

Amendments to the National Insurance Act stand out, without which the actuaries have long told us the pension scheme provisions will go broke before the end of this decade.

Another is the provision – or the lack of a provision – that prohibits a trade union, once granted recognition as a certified bargaining unit, to have that certification revoked even if the union has not even tried to service employees in the unit for decades, and has no more members left there. That, naturally has happened over the years, just as companies lose customers, or even the best of Carnival bands lose players. In life, entropy gradually brings all organisation to an end.

When that happens in industrial relations, our legislation demands that unless another union comes along, moves in and recruits the members to its own organisation (which does not often happen where the unit is small and employees are simply not interested), and applies for recognition and goes through the Recognition Board’s processes, the original recognition remains the legal partner. A kind of “no divorce despite desertion” dictate.

Occasionally the originally certified union, losing members elsewhere, decides to reclaim bargaining rights, and it appears the Industrial Court. although it is a superior court of record. feels it does not have much of a choice, unless someone refers to Sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution. where freedom of association appears and is acknowledged to take precedence.

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"Morality of old, obsolete laws"

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