Legal warning to environmental law flouters

Businesses that breach environmental regulations are putting their future at risk as lawmakers contemplate more serious punishments, says a legal expert.

The warning comes as new tougher sentencing guidelines have been proposed by The Sentencing Council with the aim of ensuring that fines match the seriousness of the offence and that cases are dealt with consistently.

David Edwards, associate solicitor at Harrison Drury said the new draft guidelines, which cover offences relating to the disposal of rubbish and other waste, should not be taken lightly as potential fines could be up to £2m.

David, an expert in defending businesses against prosecution for environmental law breaches, said: “Environmental compliance is something that often slips down the agenda of directors and business owners, particularly during a recession when other financial worries come to the fore.

“However, it is not something they can afford to underestimate, especially if these new proposals for higher fines are introduced. Businesses need to ensure they are bullet-proof when it comes to environmental regulation and companies with doubts or concerns over their responsibilities should seek legal advice as soon as possible.”

Offences covered by the guidance include those under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.

They include fly-tipping, whether this is a company dumping a lorry-load of used tyres in a field or someone leaving an old mattress in an alleyway.

It also covers offences where a company or individuals have not handled or disposed of waste properly so that it causes pollution or harm to people’s health, or the risk of it. This could be a water company allowing untreated sewage to end up on a beach or a tip operator not storing barrels of chemicals properly so that they leak into the surrounding area.

David added: “The Sentencing Council is proposing that magistrates make more use of the highest levels of fines available to them for some of the more serious offences that come before the courts. I would expect this to lead to an increase in fines for those that cause the most damage or risk to health, which is likely to include corporate offenders.” This is the first time guidelines have been produced for these offences and the Sentencing Council is seeking the views of the public, those in the criminal justice system, and environmental professions on the draft sentencing guidelines. Consultation is running from now until June 6.