EVERYDAY LAW: Crop theft in focus
Last week, at the invitation of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), I participated in a regional consultation on predial larceny, in St Lucia.
The main focus of the consultation was to consider recommendations and a plan of action for the reduction of predial larceny in Caricom countries.
While the deliberations of the meetings, held over two days, are fresh in my mind I propose to discuss the legal aspects of subject of praedial larceny over the next few weeks.
In 2005, I first discussed this subject in this column following a presentation I made to the Barbados Agricultural Society on the topic.
It is noteworthy that the Ministry of Agriculture is now proposing stiffer penalties for predial larceny. I believe that this is a clear indication that predial larceny remains a very significant threat to farmingin Barbados.
But what is predial larceny?
For convenience, I will refer to the Praedial Larceny Prevention Act Chapter 142A of the Laws of Barbados, the long title of which describes it as “an act to make better provision for the prevention of praedial larceny”.
Although not defined in the act, predial larceny refers to the theft of agricultural produce or livestock.
The focus of the Praedial Larceny Prevention Act is not on theft per se, but on a scheme of documentation that ensures that persons who are in possession or custody of agricultural produce or livestock have a legal right to control or possession.
Under the act “agricultural produce” is defined as “all root crops, plants, grasses, pulses, vegetables, cereals, fruits and fibres”. “Livestock” is defined as “any animal that is commonly reared for the purpose of human consumption, and includes the milk obtained from any such animal, and the poultry or the carcass, head, skin, feathers or any part thereof”. Under the act, poultry includes any fowl, chicken, turkey, duck, goose or other bird commonly reared for human consumption and the eggs obtained from any such bird.
The centrepiece of the legislation is the requirement for any person who purchases or otherwise obtains possession or custody of agricultural produce or livestock . . . in any place other than a public market to obtain a certificate of purchase or receipt from the vendor. The person selling or otherwise disposing of the agricultural produce or livestock is required to issue a certificate of purchase or receipt. There is a prescribed form for the certificate of purchase.
The certificate requires the vendor to state the name and address of the grower of the agricultural produce or the rearer of the livestock, the place where produce was grown or livestock was reared, the name and address of the owner of the produce or livestock if the owner is not the grower or rearer, the type and quantity of agricultural produce or livestock purchased or reared, the date of the sale or delivery of the produce or livestock and the prices paid for the purchase.
Any person who contravenes the above provisions is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5 000 or to imprisonment for two years.
Under the act a police officer is empowered to stop and search any vehicle or other means of conveyance where an offence has been committed relating to dishonesty in respect of agricultural produce or livestock which he has reasonable grounds to suspect is being used to carry the agricultural produce or livestock.
Where he finds agricultural produce or livestock, he may request the person in charge of the vehicle or other means of conveyance to produce a certificate of purchase or receipt or to give proof of ownership lawful possession.
A person who fails to produce a certificate of purchase or receipt or fails to give proof of ownership of lawful possession is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5 000 or imprisonment for a term of two years.
A constable may, without warrant, arrest and charge a person who is in possession of agricultural produce or livestock for the purpose of sale or other disposal and who fails to produce a valid certificate of purchase or receipt.
The constable who makes an arrest may also seize the agricultural produce or livestock in possession of the person arrested and the produce or livestock found in a vehicle or other means of conveyance.
It must be noted that the Prevention of Praedial Larceny Act is only one piece of legislation affecting predial larceny. Additionally, legislation such as the Theft Act and the Trespass to Property (Reform) Act may also define offences that may be committed where the main aim of the offender is to commit theft of agricultural produce or livestock.
This article is intended mainly to introduce the subject of predial larceny. In future articles I will locate the discussion in a regional context and discuss some of the amendments that are now believed to be necessary to assist with tackling the scourge.
• Cecil McCarthy is a Queen’s Counsel. Send your letters to: Everyday Law, The Nation, Fontabelle,
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