New sentencing guidelines for environmental offences
February 2014 saw the Sentencing Council launch a set of new guidelines for judges and magistrates aimed at increasing the penalties imposed on serious environmental offenders. These guidelines are set to impact on those working in the nuclear industry and elsewhere, and will come into force on the 1st July 2014.
This draft is the first time that the Sentencing Council has produced guidelines for environmental offences, and is intended to establish a degree of consistency in courts across England and Wales. The new ’12 clear steps’ measures have been produced as a result and work on the premise that offences and offenders will be categorized accordingly, and the calculations of fines issued will be proportionate to the size of the offender. As a result, Magistrates are being encouraged to enforce the higher levels of penalties available when making sentencing decisions on more serious violations, with fines of up to a quoted maximum of £3 million, but this may be greater for companies falling into the ‘Very Large’ category.
So, what does this mean for businesses? The offences to which these new guidelines will apply are governed by the Environmental Protection Act and the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. This will include the disposal of waste, such as fly-tipping or situations where waste is not disposed of in the correct manner, as well as nuisance offenders who will be prosecuted for offences such as causing smoke, noise, dust and smells, or health and pollution risks.
This follows the conclusions of the Sentencing Council that the levels of existing penalties were previously much too low and did not reflect the serious nature of the crimes committed. Courts will now be encouraged to provide a tougher response to businesses engaging in a manner which is environmentally damaging.
What consequence will this have for your company? A fine or penalty imposed as result of a breach in environmental law will have a substantial effect on a company. For larger companies in particular, fines may be likely to rise once the guidelines come into force.
Zyda law specializes in environmental law. If this article raises any issues for your company, please contact us to discuss further.