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NSWMA must pay - Public Defender wants to speed up trial over Riverton fires

Published:Saturday | March 14, 2015 | 12:14 PM

Recently appointed Public Defender Arlene Harrison-Henry is pushing for an early date to try the case brought against the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) in the Supreme Court on behalf of persons affected by fires at the Riverton Dump.

The case, which was filed last year on behalf of citizens by then Acting Public Defender Matondo Mukulu, is scheduled to be heard on December 20, but based on the latest fire at the dump that has disrupted schools, businesses, and domestic activities, while leaving scores of persons with respiratory problems, Harrison-Henry is pushing to have the matter heard earlier.

"In light of what has currently happened, I am certainly going to be consulting with the registrar and my colleagues on the other side (Attorney General's Department) to see whether or not we can't get an earlier date or whether or not the court can accommodate us earlier, because this is an untenable situation," Harrison-Henry told The Sunday Gleaner.

The lawsuit was filed under the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which protects, "the right to enjoy a healthy and productive environment free from the threat of injury or damage from environmental abuse and degradation of the ecological heritage".

"And it is not only that, as that provision in the Charter is very comprehensive ... so you don't have to actually drop sick, you can have a threat of injury and seek to invoke that right," said Harrison-Henry.

"In addition, when they elevated the right to a healthy environment to a human right, it means that state agencies acting under ordinary legislation have a higher standard to meet.

"Also, remember the second aspect. When we talk about freedom from degradation of the ecological heritage it also has implications for conservation and protective measures, so it is not just air quality," added Harrison-Henry.

This will be a landmark case locally, as nobody has previously tested the provision, but the Public Defender is confident that there is enough to stand on in court, as persons who were affected by previous fires at the dump are willing to stand up in court.

"I am confident that our courts are very sensible and they will offer us protection," said Harrison-Henry.

"Like any other case, we will have legal challenges along the way that will have to be taken care of.