Serious offenders could face bigger penalties under new environmental sentencing proposals

New proposals for how environmental offenders like fly-tippers should be sentenced have been launched today by the Sentencing Council.

The draft sentencing guidelines, which could mean larger fines for serious offenders, aim to provide clear guidance on sentencing these offences so that there is a consistent approach in courts across England and Wales.

They also aim to ensure that the level of fines given to offenders matches the seriousness of the offences they have committed so they are hit in the pocket as well as deterred from committing more crime.

This is the first time guidelines have been produced for these offences and 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. This is expected 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.

For less serious offences, it is not expected that fines will rise from current levels, and the overall proportions of offenders receiving the various types of sentence such as fines, community sentences, discharges and prison sentences, are unlikely to change.

The guideline covers a wide variety of offences related to the disposal of waste and rubbish mostly covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.

This includes 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.

In addition, it 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 include breaches of waste permits, for example a skip company could have a permit to transport waste to licensed sites for sorting and disposal, but not for doing this at their own site. They could therefore be prosecuted for acting outside their permit if they do start using their own site for processing waste.

The Sentencing Council is seeking views on its proposals through a consultation aimed at the public, those working in the criminal justice system and environmental professionals. People can have their say on the Council’s website.

Sentencing Council member and magistrate Katharine Rainsford said:

“Offences like fly-tipping and illegal disposal of hazardous waste can cause significant damage to the environment and put people’s health at risk.

“We’re improving guidance for courts to help ensure consistent and appropriate sentences for offenders, particularly for corporate offenders who can be guilty of the worst offences.

“These offences are normally motivated by making or saving money at the expense of the taxpayer. Our proposals aim to ensure that sentences hit offenders in their pocket.

“This is a consultation: we want people to give us their views on our proposals so we can develop sentences which people understand and have confidence in.”

Peter Chapman, Chairman of Magistrates’ Association‘s Sentencing Committee said:

“The Magistrates’ Association warmly welcomes this draft guideline, which responds to one of our earliest requests to the Council.

“Offences such as fly tipping and the dumping of waste blight urban communities and picturesque beauty spots alike. With this guideline, magistrates will have the confidence to impose consistent sentences that will punish wrongdoing and satisfy the concerns of the communities who suffer from it.”