A wildlife crime case review has highlighted the remarkable impact of Malawi’s new court initiatives, with the percentage of custodial sentences passed rising from 3% to 77% since the launch of court monitoring and public-private prosecutions in July 2016.
The results indicated that the court programme was also effective in isolation from other initiatives recently introduced to tackle wildlife crime. During the pilot project period (July 2016-June 2017) 100% of privately prosecuted cases and 80% of court monitored cases resulted in custodial sentences, versus 0% of cases that were neither monitored nor privately prosecuted.
The new court initiatives were introduced by the Department of National Parks & Wildlife, Malawi Police Service, the Department of Public Prosecutions and Lilongwe Wildlife Trust in response to the poor court outcomes highlighted in the Illegal Wildlife Trade Review published in 2015.
Sentencing had averaged just $40 and only two prison sentences had been passed between 2011 and 2016. Since the launch of the court programme, the average conviction now stands at three years, and those convicted under private prosecution are currently being put behind bars for up to 14 years.
Patrick Matanda, Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, said, ‘I am encouraged to see that wildlife law enforcement in Malawi is strengthening and our response to the wildlife crime crisis is becoming a deterrent. It is essential that we continue to be progressive and sustain our coordinated and collaborative approach, because there is still much for all of us to do.’
Malawi’s other recent initiatives to combat illegal wildlife trade have included a specialised Wildlife Crime Investigations Unit, which has resulted in improved interception rates, and a new Wildlife Act Amendment Bill, which has critically strengthened sentencing provisions to up to 30 years with no option of a fine.
Dudu Douglas-Hamilton from Save the Elephants – co-funders of the court projects through the Elephant Crisis Fund, partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Fund and Stop Ivory – said: ‘A key to Malawi’s recent successes has been to tackle the whole enforcement chain. There is little point in apprehending poachers or traffickers if you can’t bring them to justice in the courtroom. What’s more, the public-private collaborations, progressive attitude and drive for results is something that you don’t see everywhere else. Malawi has achieved a great deal in a relatively short space of time, but this is just the beginning and we must do all we can to continue to support their efforts.’
Lilongwe Wildlife Centre