RIGHT OF CENTRE – Need for courts to act quickly
PRAEDIAL LARCENY TODAY is frustrating the efforts of the agricultural sector to rebrand itself and its image in the eyes of the Barbadian public.The fact that agricultural commodities are grown in an environment that makes them easily accessible does not help agriculturalists. In fact, it complicates the issue because the ease of access makes it difficult to isolate crops or livestock from human access. Hence in trying to examine the next step in fighting praedial larceny, the options, though many, are likely to face serious challenges in terms of implementation.Many farmers are battling this malady with all the resources at their disposal; however, the sad fact is that they are not enough.In battling praedial larceny, one of the major considerations is the effectiveness of existing legislation as a deterrent to would-be thieves. The authorities would first of all need to do a general review of the act in order to ensure that the penalties in place are not just punitive in nature but constitute effective deterrents to persons likely to engage in the practice. Further, there is the issue of perhaps making the legislation more consistent with modern times. The use of technology is seen as one of the critical tools that could be used in the fight against crop and livestock theft; however, the use of video evidence in the law courts to convict persons caught stealing agricultural produce is extremely difficult. It would therefore seem that our lawmakers have to move speedily to address this anomaly.Another issue is how incidents of praedial larceny are treated by the courts and the public in general. In many cases the law courts seems to be overburdened with work and it would seem that cases of praedial larceny are low down on the totem pole as it relates to how they are treated. In addition, agricultural produce is perishable – which, in cases where evidence is required to obtain a conviction, can lead to frustration. Hence what is required is a court system that understands the nuances of agricultural production and would find a way of dealing with matters of this nature in an efficient manner that ensures offenders are punished for their acts on a timely basis. Further, a system needs to be in place that would recognise the fact that agricultural produce is perishable and if cases are not brought to the courts [quickly], the evidence can be lost through the process of time. Hence, our law courts must become more agile in dealing with these cases. This is not to suggest that the farmer has no responsibility in the matter. He has to ensure that everything is done to provide adequate security to protect crops and livestock. There are farmers who have developed elaborate security measures to facilitate this; however, there are some situations that do not allow the effective use of the most advanced security measures.Much has been made of the use of security beams and cameras, but these are expensive and the weather plays havoc with such security systems. In addition, the security beams cannot distinguish between a human being and an animal, hence you have to deal with a high number of false alarms. Farm neighbourhood patrols are also being considered and these perhaps offer the greatest opportunity for success.However, unless the population takes the whole issue of crop and animal theft more seriously and is prepared to provide the resources both legislative and material to fight it, praedial larceny will continue to be a disincentive to agricultural production.
James Paul is chief executive officer of the Barbados Agricultal Sciety and Member of Parliament for St Michael West-Central.