Accentuating criminal sanctions for environmental degradation: issues and perspectives

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This article examines the need to enforce criminal sanctions for environmental crimes being perpetrated daily, particularly by those who engage in mining and extractive ventures. In South Africa, more often than not, the sanctions for environmental crimes are usually premised on civil suits or administrative actions against the perpetrators. However, these sanctions have not been effective in dissuading perpetrators from environmental harm and degradation because they have the financial means to settle any claims or fines imposed by the courts or the administrative tribunals. It is against the backdrop of this culture of deliberate impunity that this article accentuates the need to strengthen sanctions against perpetrators by imposing criminal sanctions in order to serve as deterrent. A precedent was set by the court in the case of Blue Platinum Ventures (Pty) Limited and Maponya, where the court emphatically invoked and applied criminal sanction against the defendant and was held criminally liable for degrading the environment. The case is a landmark, as it sets a new precedent, where the perpetrator was criminally sanctioned. Countries like United States of America and Australia have been successful in criminal sanctioning of environmental crimes; many mining and extractives companies’ executives and managers have been criminally sanctioned and sent to jail. This article looks at the jurisprudence from these jurisdictions and draws useful lessons that could be used to strengthen prosecution and conviction of perpetrators in South Africa.

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