Savannah MLA Anthony Eden has called for more education on the mechanisms available to the public when it comes to protecting rights of way for accessing local beaches.
He made the call Thursday night in the Legislative Assembly as he withdrew his private member’s motion on public rights of way after government affirmed that under the Public Lands Law, it is a criminal offence to obstruct them.
In recent weeks, a number of photos have been posted to social media showing marked rights of way either covered with overgrown bushes or blocked by fencing.
Eden’s motion was seeking to have government amend either the Penal Code or the prescription law to make obstruction of a public beach access a criminal offence.
However, Attorney General Samuel Bulgin, speaking during the debate on the motion, pointed out such an offence already exists.
“What I don’t understand is why, in light of knowing that all of these mechanisms are in place, that it seemed to be so much confusion, different stories coming from different sides. I would urge the powers that be to do something about it,” Eden contended as he withdrew the motion.
Bulgin explained that the Public Lands Law, which was passed in 2017, not only makes obstruction an offence, but it puts systems in place to ensure rights of way are upheld.
“The law provides for inspectors to enforce the law. Inspectors have been appointed and are working, so there is already an enforcement mechanism in the law in relation to offences of obstruction of these rights of way,” Bulgin said.
The Opposition MLAs argued that the issue of rights of way must be dealt with once and for all.
Deputy Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo pointed out, as Eden did in his opening statement, that private citizens have taken up the fight to protect rights of way and he said that should not be the case.
“I do not believe that it is right that private citizens must now be used to police our public rights of way. Government’s responsibility is to ensure that these rights of ways are protected and that the law is enforced,” he said.
Many beach access cases have ended up in the courts and Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders lamented that this is an expensive exercise.
“If it’s one thing our laws need to be, our justice – to some extent – needs to be… it has to be accessible, regardless of what it is that you have in terms of financial resources or anything. It cannot be a situation where you feel as if… because of how much money you have, you can literally buy justice,” he said.
George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan, in his contribution, warned that if action is not taken, it could spell problems within the community.
“If those warnings are not heard and addressed today or within short order, we may be still in this house, if the good people put us back, having to face a very severe problem. [The] possibility of unrest in our community, possibility of somebody getting hurt and potentially even a suit on us because we have a responsibility as legislators to protect the public’s interests,” Bryan said.
Lands Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, in her contribution to the debate on the motion, said the issue of rights of way is one of concern for all 19 members of the LA.
She said the Public Lands Commission has been working on draft regulations that will deal with the issue of rights of way.
“The draft is complete. It’s left for ministerial review, and that should happen within the next week or two,” she said, adding that the commission has the full support of the government.
She said inspectors have been putting up signage across the island to indicate to the public where the right of ways are located.
“Of course, there’s always room for more, but correct procedure has to be followed,” she added.
View the debate here: