The Borneo Colloquium was held on 15th February 2020 at Hyatt Regency Kinabalu in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. The event was fully funded by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Malaysia and co-organised by the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak and Kota Kinabalu Court Working Group on Environment (KKCWGE). The one-day Colloquium was attended by judges, judicial officers, legal practitioners, Deputy Public Prosecutors, Environmental Enforcement Agencies, NGOs and members of the media.
The Colloquium was opened by The Right Honourable Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima David Wong Dak Wah. In his speech, he thanked the UNDP for being a strong supporter of various governance programmes, including the colloquium. Chief Judge Wong also thanked all panellists especially The Honourable Judge Laurie Newhook who took the trouble to travel from Auckland, New Zealand and spend his time to share his experience with his Malaysian counterparts. The Chief Judge also highlighted that the Colloquium was timely organised due to the fact that the specific Rules for cases involving environmental issues have been approved by the Rules Committee and awaiting approval from the Attorney General’s Chambers to be gazetted.
The Colloquium was divided into three sessions. Session I: Adjudication of Environmental Cases: Learning from International Experience. Session II: Strengthening the Rules and Procedures in Environmental Cases: Issues and Challenges and Session III: The Role of Individuals and Organisations in Protecting the Environment: Way Forward. There were 7 panellists including a Judge from Environment Court of New Zealand invited to share their experience and expertise in their respective fields which include geology, wildlife protection, environmental enforcement and environmental law.
The overall feedback and response received from participants were overwhelming. Many have commended the joint effort by UNDP and the Judiciary in initiating the organisation of the Colloquium. The panellists were highly respected and their presentations were very informative and well presented.
The main deliverables of the Colloquium are:
(i) The Judiciary has taken a serious step in environmental protection by amending the Rules of Court 2012. Order 70A, Rule 1 to Rule 10 were added to the Rules which give more powers and flexibility for environmental cases especially public interest cases to be brought to court. It is now left to the public especially the lawyers and NGOs to bring any case to the court.
(ii) The legal practitioners are urging the Bench when hearing and deciding environmental cases, to act as a court of equity and good conscience and on the merits of the case without regard to technicalities and legal form and in consonance with the winds of change howling for environmental justice and judicial activism.
(iii) From the perspective of academic, there are many improvements that need to be done especially on amendment to the existing environmental legislations. The power of environmental enforcement agencies particularly compounding authority needs to be reviewed because there will be less cases brought to court. In some cases, individuals or corporate entities are able to pay any amount of the compound and will keep repeating the same offence. It shows that there is no respect to the law.
(iv) From the perspective of geologist, knowledge is the key education to solve environmental issues. The long-term strategy would be to inculcate this basic geological science at young age and imbed this science in the school syllabus.
(v)The enforcement agencies have been urged to strengthen their enforcement activities and act responsively towards any complaints made to them.