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EVERYDAY LAW: Tackling problem of crop theft

Cecil McCarthy

EVERYDAY LAW: Tackling problem of crop theft

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Predial larceny is concerned primarily with the theft of agricultural produce and livestock. By their very nature, these items present significant challenges for prosecutors seeking to gain a conviction. The exacting evidentiary legal requirements very often relate to proving identity and ownership.
There are also difficulties with the preservation of evidence and even before this stage, there are obvious difficulties with detecting and apprehending the perpetrators of the crime.
For the above reasons alone, people who are found guilty of the theft of agricultural produce and/or livestock should be given a sentence that reflects the nature of the offence, which I consider in most cases to be serious. When one considers the effort and money that individual farmers put into producing their crops or rearing their animals, and the effect of theft on the cost of these items and the livelihood of farmers, the case for tough sentencing in this area is obvious.
In a future article I will address the question of sentencing.
The focus of this article, however, will be primarily on attempts to improve the content of legislation, with a view to making the apprehension of those involved in committing predial larceny or facilitating it in any possible form whether they be receivers, agents, or transporters or otherwise.
Throughout the Caribbean, the concern with tackling this problem has led to legislation being amended from time to time. These amendments have dealt with, among other things, creating a system of registration of farmers, establishing special forces to police the legislation, using photographs to assist with identification and employing a mandatory receipt system to identify bona fide handlers of agricultural produce or livestock. Sometimes provision has been made for minimum sentences.
One such amending piece of legislation is the Predial Larceny Prevention (Amendment) Act of Trinidad and Tobago, which was passed in 2000.
This act introduces for Trinidad and Tobago the concept of a Predial Larceny Squad, which consists of such numbers and ranks of officers as may be assigned by the commissioner to carry out the provisions of the act. The idea is that there should be a set of police officers whose primary task should be to police the act in the same way, for example, as you may have a Drug Squad focusing primarily on drug offences.
Another interesting feature of the legislation in Trinidad and Tobago is the requirements for registration of sellers of agricultural produce or livestock of a certain weight. Here is an extract from the legislation:
“Every person who sells, trades in, deals in, supplies or otherwise deposes of agricultural produce or livestock of the weight of 25 kilograms or more shall be registered in the manner provided by this section.”
The act then provides for the issuing of a certificate of registration which shall
(a) “be for such period as may be prescribed;
(b) bear a registration number, and
(c) bear the date of issue and the date on which the registration shall expire.”
Failure to register in accordance with the act is penalised by a fine of $5 000 and imprisonment for one year.
The legislation further categorises dealers in agricultural produce and livestock as “producers” (growers of crops or rearers of livestock) “wholesalers” (purchasers) and “retailers” (sellers or traders) and then provides that “every producer, wholesaler or retailer, shall at the time of the sale or delivery of agricultural produce or livestock of the weight of 25 kilograms or more, give a memorandum of sale or delivery to the purchaser or other persons obtaining possession or custody of the agricultural produce or livestock”.
This memorandum must, among other things, set out the registration number of the producer, wholesaler or retailer, the date of sale or delivery and the type and quantity of the agricultural produce or livestock delivered.
A few years ago, in Jamaica, legislation was passed, introducing, among other things, a compulsory receipt book system to verify the ownership and source of agricultural produce and livestock in the process of transportation and trading. They have also assigned special police to assist with the enforcement of the legislation.
•Cecil McCarthy is a Queen’s Counsel. Send your letters to: Everyday Law, The Nation, Fontabelle, St Michael. send your email to [email protected]