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One of the many signs located on the periphery of the Aripo Savannas Scientific Reserve stating that hunting, squatting and trespassing are prohibited

Gail Alexander

Look out for a much bigger fine of $100,000 if you’re hunting wild meat illegally.

And Opposition Senator Sean Sobers has supported Government’s move to increase the penalties for illegal hunting – and other violations of wildlife conservation law – from $10,000 to $100,000 since Sobers has said people have been crying out for this for a long time.

“The increases in penalities are much needed because of people illegally entering game sanctuaries and state lands outside of hunting season,” Sobers said in yesterday’s Senate debate on the proposal.

The increase is contained in clauses presented in a Miscellaneous package of amendments to 36 bills presented by Attorney General Faris Al Rawi yesterday. Al Rawi said the current $10,000 fine level for violation of wildlife conservation laws was “ridiculous”.

From January 2019 fines for violation for various clauses in the Conservation of Wildlife Act (67:01) were raised from sums ranging from a minimum of $200, $1,000 and $5,000 to $10,000. That fine covered hunting in a game sanctuary, hunting protected animals without a special Game Licence, failing to produce/obtain a state Game Licence, export of animals without permission, hunting while disqualified, hunting/exercising dogs during the closed season, resisting a game warden and other offences.

But the AG yesterday said the $10,000 fines for those areas are now being hiked to $100,000.

The UNC’s Sobers stated, “People must understand why sanctuaries are established to allow wildlife to continue to exist when hunting is closed,”

Sobers asked if the Agriculture Minister would also strengthen systems regarding game wardens who police terrain.

On another aspect of the amendment package – allowing the Chief Justice to transfer cases from one jurisdiction to another- Sobers said he saw a degree of wisdom in allowing for cases to be transferred among jurisdictions. He noted the case involving the 1990 failed coup attempt was done at a Chaguaramas court for security purposes.

Sobers added, “Also currently we encounter large traffic jams when a certain matter is on in the POS Magistrates’ Court. I don’t see any attempt to affect the administration of justice if a court’s moved to a more secure location if proper reasons are advanced.”

But Sobers advised that some consent should be requested from parties involved in the cases and they should be consulted if a matter is shifted. He said new locations should have proper infrastructure. He said so far audiovisual systems are working well under COVID protocols. But he said body language is also considered in cases and that may not always be properly determined in virtual hearings.

“It’s a shame we had to wait for COVID to reach this stage where we embrace the technology,”

Sobers quipped he’d heard that some legal practitioners using (virtual) systems “…..Wear their shirt, tie and jacket – and in some instances, no pants,”

He said while it was a big bill, the majority of categories in the package involved small changes.

CJ shouldn’t transfer cases – Mark

UNC senator Wade Mark who complained about the size of the package said allowing the CJ to transfer cases from one jurisdiction to another, could prompt “forum shopping”. He said the situation could allow cases to go to magistrates who may be “beholden” to the CJ and it undermined the Chief Magistrate’s autonomy.

Mark decried another clause which he said would remove responsibility for pleasure craft from the Customs Comptroller to the Finance Minister – who he said owns a pleasure craft.

UNC Senator Saddam Hosein said allowing the CJ to shift cases among jurisdictions was “interfering with the judicial process.” He said there are interests in society, the situation could lead to “forum shopping and the Chief Justice may be able to ”influence matters.”

Hosein said virtual hearings can result in efficiency but shifting cases couldn’t be done for expediency. He said virtual hearings don’t properly show if someone was being truthful or not.

Hosein said yesterday might very well be the Senate’s last sitting (due to Parliament’s upcoming recess) “And you can bring 35 bills but the UNC will still form the Government.”

AG Al Rawi said it wasn’t the Senate’s last sitting since the Senate meets again today.