Sentencing guidelines launched for forest crimes in Sabah

KOTA KINABALU: Sentencing on forest crimes will now be more standardised with sentencing guidelines issued on Thursday (Dec 2).

The guidelines will assist courts to reduce disparities in sentences in cases related to forest crimes in Sabah, said Chief Justice of Sabah and Sarawak Datuk Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim during its virtual launch in Sandakan.

He said this is the second sentencing guideline related to the environment, while the first were launched in 2019 for wildlife crimes.

He said the guidelines for forest crimes is a milestone in environmental protection in Sabah as it will allow the Environmental Court to enhance its sentencing.

Iskandar said public perception was that sentencing for forest crimes was lenient, with relatively minor penalties and a “whimsical exercise by judges and judicial officers”.

“We can see heavier and more consistent penalties meted to offenders, ensuring that the severity of the punishment is proportionate to the severity of the crime committed,” he said.

“These guidelines take into account the level of culpability, the level of harm caused as well as the aggravating and mitigating factors presented by the prosecution and the accused,” he said.

This will ensure that the offender will receive fines commensurate with the severity of their offences, Iskandar said, adding that it is hoped that heavier fines will be a deterrent and warning to those who intend to commit the same offence.

“Preventing and tackling forest crime is essential for sustaining all life on earth; organised crimes and corruption are among the many drivers of biodiversity loss,” Iskandar said.

The sentencing guidelines support collective enforcement agencies’ efforts on the ground ensure the protection of the State’s forests and in line with the Sabah Forest Policy 2018 aimed at strengthening forest enforcement and laws.

Sabah Chief Conservator of Forests Datuk Frederick Kugan pointed out that while many forest offences were prosecuted in court, conviction rates were low due to under-developed investigation techniques by forest officers, among others.

He said the challenges of combining forestry science into the legal framework of enforcement for successful prosecution also played a part.

“Unfortunately, these challenges were interpreted by forest criminals as the perfect opportunity to commit more crimes and get away with it,” he said.

The launch of the guidelines are the result of long-term collaboration between the Kota Kinabalu Court Working Group for Environment, the Sabah Forestry Department and WWF-Malaysia in consultation with the Sabah Law Society, the Attorney General’s Chambers of Sabah, judges in Sabah as well as prosecution officers.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia applauded the Sabah Judiciary for its efforts to further enhance the existing laws against environmental crimes.

WWF-Malaysia CEO, Sophia Lim said this sentencing guideline will no doubt bolster current efforts to safeguard Sabah forests

She stressed the importance of protecting Sabah’s forests as the forest provides a myriad of benefits to communities.