KUDAT: The implementation of a guideline for sentencing wildlife crime - the first of its kind in Malaysia - will allow courts in Sabah to conduct related cases in a fair and consistent manner.
The guideline takes into account the level of culpability of the offence, level of harm caused by the accused, and the aggravating and mitigating factors presented by the prosecution and the accused/defence.
This marks a significant effort to address the rampant illegal wildlife trade in Sabah, said WWF-Malaysia in a statement.
Sabah and Sarawak Chief Judge Datuk Seri David Wong Dak Wah launched the new guideline at a ceremony in Kudat on Saturday (June 22).
"WWF-Malaysia applauds the Sabah Judiciary on its efforts in creating the guideline to further address environmental and wildlife crime.
"Sabah is blessed with rich biodiversity, which no doubt attracts irresponsible individuals or groups looking to profit from it in an unsustainable manner.
"The population numbers for most of our prized wildlife like turtles, pangolins, sun bears and clouded leopards are dwindling in part due to illegal wildlife trade.
"We hope that these guidelines will help create a stronger deterrent to keep poachers away from wildlife, be it in our forests or in our seas," said WWF-Malaysia conservation director Dr Henry Chan.
Poachers and illegal wildlife traders stand to earn lucrative profits from their sale of prized wildlife such as turtles and pangolins, but while these acts are deemed crimes under the law, the penalties received do not reflect the severity of the crime.
At present, convicted offenders receive lenient sentences that do not commensurate with the profit that they stand to gain.
"The impact of their actions - which will likely result in the loss of entire wildlife populations - are also not given adequate consideration when meting out penalties," said Chan.
Seeing the need, the Environmental Court - a court specialised in environment-related cases - was launched in 2015 under the guidance of the former Sabah and Sarawak Chief Judge Tan Sri Richard Malanjum.
To strengthen the Environmental Court, the judiciary discussed the need for a sentencing guideline where a green criminologist from the WWF-UK was introduced to the judiciary by WWF-Malaysia to assist and advise on the matter.
"As the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 is the only legislation that has jurisdiction over the management of wildlife in Sabah, it became the only reference used for the guidelines on wildlife crime.
"Through several workshops and meetings conducted over the past two years between the judiciary, the Attorney General Chambers and the Sabah Law Association, as well as supported by WWF-Malaysia, the guideline is now in place," said WWF-Malaysia.
According to the NGO, the guideline would not hamper the discretion of judges and judicial officers in any way at all when meting out sentences, but any departure from it must be premised on sound reasons.
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