By Aggrey Mutambo
Chief Justice Willy Mutunga has told wildlife campaigners to suggest “quick” amendments to the new wildlife laws so that culprits do not take advantage of the loopholes to escape justice.
Dr Mutunga on Thursday told the gathering of environmentalists and conservationists that the new Wildlife Management and Conservation Act has many good provisions that are likely to deter poachers, but the mistakes in sections of it could still weaken its main goals.
“There is a reason to be very hopeful that we can turn things around. There is a new Wildlife Act. While I understand it has many shortcomings, it is a step in the right direction,” he told the Judicial Dialogue on Environmental and Wildlife Crimes at the Safari Park Hotel.
“With this kind of sustained and robust engagement among the stakeholders replacing finger pointing of yesterday, we are certain to suggest quick amendments that will fix the more serious loopholes and mistakes in the Act.”
Dr Mutunga did not clarify the weaknesses, but the new Act, according to Dr Paula Kahumbu of Wildlife Direct, has some scheduling errors which defence lawyers could use to argue for technical dismissal of cases.
“We have identified many mistakes in these laws which have typos that could be used the wrong way. For example sometimes the wrong schedule is picked and in some cases schedules are wrongly named which makes it easy for defence lawyers to challenge prosecution charge,” she told the Nation.
The CJ spoke just two days after the new Act claimed its first victim in the name of a Chinese man. Mr Tang Yong Jian was this week handed a Sh20 million or a seven year jail term after he was arrested with elephant tusks weighing 3.4 kilogrammes at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. (READ: Chinese man fined Sh20M for ivory smuggling)
It was the first time a suspected trafficker of illegal wildlife items had been convicted under the tough laws passed recently and wildlife enthusiasts hope this will deter poachers.
The new Act brought in tougher penalties which authorities think will help discourage traffickers by making poaching a loss-making venture.
Kenya has lost more than 190 elephants to poachers since January 2012 and 29 rhinos have also been killed for their horn. Previously, a poacher could be fined Sh30,000 or a jail term of a year. The new laws provides for up to a life sentence or fines of up to Sh30 million.
“Overall, it makes poaching non-profitable. But of course it depends on a lot of things such as good implementation, investigations are done properly and if the prosecution is done well,” argued Nehemiah Rotich, the Chairman of the African Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW). “As a great law, it fills that void that was exploited by poachers. We expect that the numbers of poaching incidents will lead to deal a blow to the decline of elephants.”
Although many poachers and traffickers of wildlife trophies have been arrested and charged, the penalties meted to them have been lenient.
“The new law is probably the most severe law in the world because poachers and traffickers can go to jail for life if convicted by a judge,” added Dr Paula Kahumbu, who helped draft the law. “But this law is not enough; the anti-poaching movement will have to begin with the communities in the grassroots and their willingness to catch the perpetrators. The police, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the prosecutions… They will have to bring good cases to court because if they don’t do that, magistrates cannot rule and this is where we are likely to have a breakdown.”