By Byron Mutingwende
A renowned animal rights lawyer, Vimbai Chinoda has said the Judiciary and law students need to be educated about the value of animals and their contribution to society and the economy.
The trivialisation of wildlife crime cases by the judiciary in the courts as highlighted by Minister Oppah Muchinguri is as a result of ignorance of the intrinsic and extrinsic value of animals. Currently, no law university teaches animal law and thus prosecutors and magistrates encounter animal statutes and cases for their first time when practising in court. Like any field of law like human rights, labour law or criminal law each and every law student must have the opportunity to learn something about animal protection and preservation laws,” Chinoda said.
Zimbabwe has a number of animal statutes such as the Prevention of Cruelty Act, Trapping of Animals Act, Parks and Wildlife Act and many others, that law students before graduating to be lawyers must familiarise themselves with before becoming magistrates and prosecutors.
Chinoda said it is hard to protect and fight for something whose value one does not appreciate.
“Thus animal law should be introduced in law schools first. Then capacity building and continuous sensitisation of prosecutors and judiciary should be done so that they contribute to combatting wildlife crime.”
The prosecutors and judiciary play an integral role in fighting against animal cruelty, illegal wildlife trade, and poaching. The criminal justice system could be strengthened in many ways to fight wildlife crime.
One way is to develop the charging standards and prosecution of wildlife crime. This will increase transparency and consistency in stronger charging decisions affected in an increased conviction rate in wildlife crime.
The other strategy is to employ an Active Case Management system. The delay in the court system is of concern by various stakeholders that work hard to protect wildlife and fight poachers. Unlike other exhibits, in wildlife cases, the exhibit might be of a live animal hence a speedy trial must be conducted to preserve the life of the animal.
Failure to do conduct a trial within a reasonable day can affect the animal with stress leading to death and also the frustration of witnesses who risk their lives facing the armed poachers.
Chinoda called for a reduction of adjournments between a not guilty plea and conclusion of trial, reflecting increased efficiency in trial processes.
Equally critical is the development of sentencing guidelines for wildlife crimes. The goal is to promote consistency and proportionate sentencing nationwide. Then the prosecution in the event of non-compliance must employ a robust appeal strategy.
There is need to review policy for sentencing for wildlife crimes. The sentencing structure must consider the value of the animal to the economy, the status of the animal whether it is an endangered species or not, the current populations of the particular animal and location in which the offense took place, to name but a few guidelines.
“Our animals are of different statutory value and thus the sentence of a crime involving a case involving poaching an elephant must differ from that of poaching a zebra. Currently, the majority of wildlife offences involving animals which are not specially protected like a lion or elephant attract a penalty of $200 or six months imprisonment. The court may order compensation of killing of an animal according to section 105 of the Parks and Wildlife Act Chapter 20:14. Penalties for committing wildlife crimes must be deterrent enough as this is in the best interest of animals.”