Judiciary conference targets environmental issues

The eighth annual Caribbean Heads of Judiciary conference – the first to be staged in the Cayman Islands – was held last week.

Heads of judiciary from the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Turks & Caicos as well as the Caribbean Court of Justice President, Mr. Justice de la Bastide, and the Acting Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Sir Brian Alleyne, joined host Chief Justice Anthony Smellie in a range of meetings on the administration of justice in the Caribbean region.

The conference’s open plenary on Thursday brought together members of government, distinguished members of Cayman’s legal community and conference delegates to officially open the conference, and to discuss the role of the judiciary in environmental protection and sustainable development.

Governor Stuart Jack welcomed attendees, remarking on the importance of an effective and independent judiciary in the well-being of societies and economies.

‘Nowhere does the stability and prosperity of our people hinge more on a robust, stalwart and impartial judiciary than with regard to social justice for all. Only where there is the clear perception that justice is dispensed without fear or favour, can we achieve lasting internal social harmony and growth,’ he said.

Speaking of environmental concerns such as hurricanes, climate change and the pressures of development, he highlighted the role the judiciary can play.

‘The challenge, of course, is in achieving that crucial balance between protecting our environments and maintaining a steady growth in sustainable development – and an enlightened judiciary is a prerequisite for achieving this balance,’ he said.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts also underscored Cayman’s resolve to uphold an independent judiciary. Providing an overview of Cayman’s judicial heritage, he expressed the government’s commitment to the proposed new courts complex, which will provide the country with much needed additional space and services.

Keynote speaker Mr. Thomas Braidwood of the British Columbia Supreme Court gave an engaging overview of the role the judiciary can play in environmental issues. A Canadian province well known for its environmental richness, British Columbia has experienced a number of notable and landmark environmental cases. Mr. Braidwood took attendees through a few of them, illustrating the role of the judiciary on either side of the environmental coin.

One civil disobedience case he described involved the decision by the BC court to jail a 78-year-old grandmother participating in a blockade against a new road. Another involved the British Columbia government being found to have failed to meet its duty to consult with a First Nations tribe on a mining project.

‘I think there is a role in the courts to attempt to interpret legislation and negotiation rather than confrontation,’ he said.

But he raised the importance of penalties for polluters as a deterrent as well.

‘The response by Canadian courts with regard to sentencing can be quite harsh when dealing with environmental offences. However, since our courts have embraced the environment and are concerned with environmental damage, these penalties are only likely to become greater,’ he said.

‘The role of our courts is to deter offenders, and therefore stiff penalties, compounded with imprisonment, can serve to protect our environment in the future.’

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