SANDAKAN, Dec 2 — A guideline on sentencing for forest crimes in Sabah was launched today to assist the court in achieving uniformity and consistency in sentencing in such cases.

Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim said the guideline serves as an addition to the existing Sentencing Guideline for Wildlife Crimes launched in 2019 by his predecessor Tan Sri David Wong Dak Wah.

“What is hoped from this guideline is to avoid disparity in sentencing by the court on such crimes. There are a few reports published internationally describing the sentences imposed in forestry cases in Malaysia as being lenient or given a relatively minor penalty,” he told reporters after launching the guideline here.

Abang Iskandar further said the reports had recommended that Malaysian judges understand the severity and consequences of illegal forestry activities in order to mete out judgments that were severe and act as a sufficient deterrent.

“But one must remember that while punishments are defined by law, the measure of what is an appropriate sentence in a given case is left to the discretion of the judges and judicial officers,” he added.

Abang Iskandar also noted the Sabah Forestry Department’s efforts to improve the quality of its law enforcement through training of its forest officers in investigation and prosecution of forest offences, saying efficient investigation and prosecution would pave the way towards securing a higher rate of convictions.

Sabah Chief Conservator of Forests Datuk Frederick Kugan said the Forestry Department’s initiative to constantly improve the quality of enforcement generated higher conviction rates by its trained officers and heavier penalties, significantly reducing incidents of forest crimes in recent years.

Frederick added that there was great potential for the department to work with deputy public prosecutors to protect Sabah’s natural resources through effective law enforcement.

World Wildlife Fund Malaysia chief executive officer Sophia Lim said that the launch of the guideline was a milestone on environment protection in Sabah as it would provide support to the Environment Court in the state to enhance its sentencing.

“It (guideline) takes into account the level of culpability of the offences, the level of harm caused by the accused, and the aggravating and mitigating factors presented by the prosecution and the accused. This will then ensure that the offender will receive fines that commensurate with the severity of their offences,” she said. — Bernama