"Wildlife Crime and Animal Victims: Improving Access to Environmental Justice in Hong Kong"
Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy, forthcoming 2020
Abstract: Wildlife crimes are often argued to be victimless, due to the anthropocentric view of crime which dominates policy and policing discourse. Falling outside the normative criminal justice lens, wildlife crimes are not frequently brought to court and lack of expertise in policing and prosecuting cases impairs their recognition as serious crimes. When wildlife offences are prosecuted, the tendency to try cases in the magistrates’ courts compounds problems with lack of judicial exposure to this specialised form of crime and limits development of judicial expertise in the field. The traditional punishments utilised for wildlife crimes have also tended to follow the trajectory for mainstream offences, focussing exclusively on the liability of the defendant (through considerations of deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation) or on the remedying of harms to the environment (via restoration and compensation). Lacking legal standing in the court process, harms caused to endangered animals (as individuals or species) have been marginalised from consideration in sentencing decisions. Recognised only as legal property, they may be forfeited or returned to their lawful owners, in accordance with the court’s findings. Focusing on recent developments in Scotland and Hong Kong, this paper argues that a more effective justice response to wildlife crime permits recognition of the interests of animals, as victims, in wildlife offences. While victim impact statements for pollution offences are received by the courts in many jurisdictions, with the notable exception of Scotland, they have not been formally recognised for animals in wildlife offences. In Scotland, prosecutors and the judiciary are now provided with expert evidence as to the range of social, economic and species harms caused by wildlife offending. Armed with knowledge of the role of animals as individual and species victims of crime, sentences may be passed which take appropriate regard of wild animal suffering, their monetary and conservation value, and the impact of their loss on biodiversity. In Hong Kong, the nature of wild animals as victims of crime has also begun to be recognised in the use of victim impact statements for wildlife offences. Victim impact statements for 33 of the most commonly smuggled animals traded into and through Hong Kong are now utilised by prosecutors in their presentation of wildlife cases at court. The use of these statements is allowing for better informed sentencing decisions in individual cases and improved environmental justice in the region. This is output from GRF Grant No 17655316. Please contact the author (firstname.lastname@example.org) to obtain the full text.