The way people committing environmental and waste offences are sentenced will change as of July this year, with a new guideline for judges and magistrates published by the Sentencing Council meaning higher sentences for serious waste crime.
This is the first time a guideline has been produced for environmental offences and covers fly-tipping and waste crimes.
The guidance is likely to lead to larger fines for serious offenders, whilst ensuring a consistent approach to offences is taken by courts in England and Wales.
The guideline covers a variety of offences related to the disposal of waste, also covering waste handling or disposal offences, where a company or individuals cause pollution or harm to people’s health, or the risk of it.
It also deals with nuisance offenders such as those who cause noise, smoke, dust or smells, or run premises which pose a health or pollution risk.
Other offences covered include breaches of waste permits.
ESA – “ESA has for many years expressed concerns that courts do not have sufficient guidance or receive sufficient training on dealing with environmental offences. They often do not fully appreciate the seriousness of such crimes, and therefore impose inadequate sentences”
The guideline was introduced due to a lack of familiarity, particularly among magistrates, with sentencing these offences and because following their review of current sentencing practice, the Council concluded that the levels of some fines were too low and did not reflect the seriousness of the offence committed.
It encourages magistrates to make more use of the highest levels of fines for some of the more serious offences that come before the courts. Corporate offenders committing serious offences, who are likely to be those causing most damage or risk to health, are expected to get higher fines.
There are unlikely to be significant changes to penalty levels for lower level offences, and the overall proportions of offenders receiving the various types of sentence such as fines, community sentences, discharges and prison sentences, are expected to remain the same.
Fines are the most common sentences passed for these offences, since the offences are motivated by making a profit or saving money. However, custody remains the starting point for the most serious types of individual offenders who deliberately commit a crime that causes significant or major harm. Jail sentences obviously cannot be applied to organisations.
Publication of the guideline follows a public consultation last year and takes into account views from those who responded, such as judges and magistrates, lawyers, environmental professionals, local authorities, the waste industry and members of the public.
A number of changes were made as a result of feedback, including creating separate guidelines for offences committed by organisations and those committed by individuals.
Elements of the sentencing process have also been put into separate steps to ensure all relevant factors are considered in assessing the right level of penalty.
The scope of the guideline has also been expanded. Consultation feedback suggested that that the general principles in the guideline could also be applied more widely to further environmental offences such as the unlawful treatment or disposal of waste. While the sentencing levels set out would not be used, the general approach can be applied.
Katharine Rainsford, Sentencing Council – “Illegal disposal of hazardous waste not only causes damage to the environment but puts people’s health at risk as well”
Sentencing Council member and magistrate Katharine Rainsford said: “Illegal disposal of hazardous waste not only causes damage to the environment but puts people’s health at risk as well.
“This guidance for courts will help ensure consistent and appropriate sentences for offenders.
“These crimes are normally about making or saving money at the expense of the taxpayer. They also undermine law-abiding businesses in the waste management industry who are contributing to economic growth. This guideline aims to ensure that sentences hit offenders in their pocket.”
The Environmental Services Association (ESA) welcomed the guidance, saying that it hopes it will help to “deter environmental criminals who pose the greatest environmental risk, whose transgressions are most difficult to detect and whose adverse environmental impact is greatest.”
Is stated: “ESA has for many years expressed concerns that courts do not have sufficient guidance or receive sufficient training on dealing with environmental offences. They often do not fully appreciate the seriousness of such crimes, and therefore impose inadequate sentences. We would like to see a transfer of environmental knowledge to the courts, enabling them to impose appropriate sentences, and we hope this guidance and continued training of magistrates will further this aim”
“The new guidance will improve understanding about the impact of environmental crime and will help to tackle what is a growing problem. It provides judges and magistrates with the right tools to appropriately punish those who seek to profit from damaging the environment, our communities and the legitimate waste industry,” says CIWM deputy chief executive Chris Murphy.
“We are pleased to see that new guidance allows fines to be more accurately tailored to the fit the crime and that there is now the scope to sentence corporate offenders. By extending the range of fines and the upper limit of the fine that can be imposed, the new sentencing framework means that serious and persistent offenders are likely to face much tougher penalties.”
For the full guidance CLICK HERE