KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 – A specialised environmental court for civil cases would raise more awareness on environmental issues among civilians but there was still room for further expansion on environmental offences. Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria had yesterday revealed that the judiciary was contemplating setting up a specialised environmental court for civil cases in light of the recent natural disaster that had hit a number of states.
Arifin said this would also expedite the disposal of environment-related cases both at the High Courts and at the subordinate courts as the present Environmental Courts, which became operational from Sept 10, 2012, only dealt with the prosecution of environmental offences and did not handle civil claims.
“Principally special civil courts for environmental cases are welcomed,” Selangor State Tourism, Consumer Affairs and Environment exco Elizabeth Wong said to The Rakyat Post. However, the PKR lawmaker said there was still room for further fortification of the current courts, particularly to ensure offenders were “brought to book expeditiously” and increasing the number of judges to hear these cases.
Non-governmental organisations also lauded the suggestion. “It’s definitely a good step forward. I support it as an individual,” EcoKnights president Yasmin Rasyid said when contacted. Adding that the proposed plan would also raise more consciousness in proper land planning and management, Yasmin stressed that higher penalties must also be meted out to offenders.
“Penalties for massive offences must be high in order for the court to take environment issues seriously.” Shah Alam Trees For Life adviser Datin Rossiti Rashidi on the other hand, hoped that the implementation of the court be transparent. “I do hope the implementation will be as transparent as the physical degradation we see on our mountains.”
Explaining that environmental crimes were a threat to human survival, Rossiti said the laws in place should not just be for survival. The public, she said, needed to live healthy, have access to clean water and to be safe from disasters caused by poor environmental governance. The recent flood disaster, said to be the worst in the nation’s history, had been partly blamed on deforestation and illegal land clearing.