Commentary: Third ASEAN Chief Justices Roundtable on Environment - Third ASEAN Chief Justices Roundtable on Environment (15 – 18 November 2013, Bangkok, Thailand)

Published on Wednesday, 13 November 2013

For two days, from 8.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. ASEAN Chief Justices or their representatives had fruitful discussions on environmental issues with special reference to their respective Judiciaries.

It was my second attendance after the Melaka Roundtable. The Bangkok meeting was a success. Participations were excellent. Personally I learned quite a lot after hearing the experiences of the judiciaries in the other ASEAN countries. And I went home hoping that the following issues would be tackled in the next Roundtable, namely:

  1. That there should be more knowledge and information sharing on environmental laws and issues amongst the ASEAN countries. Experts from one country should be available to come to another to testify on certain aspects of environmental evidence and such experts should be recognized by all ASEAN countries;
  2. That there should be more funding for judicial education on environmental issues. The mindset or thinking of Judges and judicial officers on environmental cases need to be changed. Environmental offences should be perceived as serious offences in the same category as drug or human trafficking. Currently based on the penalties provided in the relevant legislations and/or the actual punishments imposed by the courts environmental offences are considered less serious. There is a need to remind Judges, judicial officers and other enforcement agencies that this generation is merely a trustee for the next generation in the protection of Mother Earth; and
  3. That efforts among ASEAN countries should be made to standardize as much as possible the relevant environmental legislations especially on the penalties provided so that offenders would not be able to circumvent the laws by exploiting the loopholes of one country as against another. Provisions for compounding offences by enforcement agencies should be removed.

One thing I realized that I would suggest that this issue should be addressed in order to make the Roundtable a progressive and dynamic meeting of the minds. There seemed to be only a minimum follow up on the issues discussed in Melaka like the Melaka MOU. Continuity was quite absent. Perhaps it was due to the many new faces that came to Bangkok, [but I hope that the recommendations made in Bangkok are pursued.]