Sentencing guidelines for environmental crimes published
The Sentencing Council has published new guidelines for judges and magistrates to deal with environmental offences.
Covering a range of offences related to the disposal of waste mostly covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010, the rules will be used in courts from 1 July 2014.
The introduction of the new guidelines is designed to ensure courts in England and Wales take a more consistent approach when dealing with environmental offences.
It is the first time that the Sentencing Council has provided guidelines for offences including fly-tipping, waste handling and pollution in relation to noise, smoke and dust.
The Sentencing Council believes that the guidelines will encourage magistrates to make greater use of the highest levels of fines. It states that financial penalties for lower level offences will remain largely unaffected but adds that fines for businesses will also be determined by their size.
The guidelines follow a public consultation in 2013 which took into account views from judges and magistrates, lawyers, environmental professionals and local authorities.
Following feedback during the consultation process, separate guidelines for offences committed by organisations and those committed by individuals have been provided.
Cairo Nickolls, an environment law specialist at Irwin Mitchell, said: “This is the first release of sentencing guidelines in relation to environmental offences by the Sentencing Council and it is very likely to lead to higher fines as a result.
“Businesses need to ensure that they understand the new sentencing framework and be aware that courts which are sentencing after 1 July 2014 will utilise the guidelines irrespective of when the offence took place.
“Although this is intended to create a consistent method of sentencing, it may actually result in a method of sentencing which is overly prescriptive.
“Businesses will be categorised by size, particularly turnover, and I expect there will be some level of ambiguity in relation to how the turnover of organisations will be established. In particular, I am concerned about the potential difficulty arising from sentencing a company which is part of a group of companies. The sentencing court will retain some discretion when sentencing. As well as turnover, the Court can also take into account the organisation’s wider financial circumstances and whether any operational savings were made by committing the breach.
“The new guidelines are significant and highlight the need for organisations affected to seek expert legal advice as early as possible.”
Business Money editor, Robert Lefroy, commented: “Existing for two months in the middle of one of the great environmental crimes perpetrated on a community by unelected commissioners in Brussels and their hapless, servile and incompetent henchmen in the upper echelons of the Environment Agency one can only wonder as to how we make those buffoons accountable and punish them too. The slaughter by drowning of wildlife, the devastation wrought upon my neighbours whose homes have been flooded, the massive impact upon local businesses and farms demands redress. Had this been visited upon the USA by BP the resulting courtroom bonanza would have set new records. Any chance we can set a few in the UK too?”