Waste & environmental offences

The Environment Agency (EA) now has a wide range of powers that will significantly impact on both an individual and any business should either or both become the subject of investigation and prosecution.

The exercise of such powers, which include both civil and criminal penalties, are determined by the level of offending. Some are specific to environmental offences. Whatever offence or offending behaviour is being considered the Agency has a level of discretion to pursue a range of sanctions. Culpability and the degree of harm caused to the environment are major factors. 

These include:

  • issuing a warning
  • caution
  • prosecution
  • fixed penalty notice
  • statutory enforcement notice
  • prohibition notice
  • suspension or revocation of environmental permit
  • injunction
  • civil sanction
  • confiscation
  • enforcement undertakings.
The increase in options available to the EA, not to mention local authorities, is considerable and needs to be the subject of careful management and negotiation.

Although the majority of prosecutions under the Environmental Protection Act or other relevant legislation lead to fines, it must be noted that those fines are now unlimited; for individuals there are powers, not only to impose unlimited fines, but also imprisonment of up to 12 months in the Magistrates Court or up to five years’ imprisonment in the Crown Court. 

Additionally, you will need also to consider the significant impact of confiscation under the Proceeds of Crime Act. This is a course often adopted following prosecution. Here the EA seeks an order from the Court to make a business repay the benefit of any unlawful activity. This can lead to enormous penalties.

The financial burden on both you as an individual or your business (depending on size) will be considerable. You should seek advice and guidance early. It is important you react positively.

You need to be aware of how to respond to any allegation made by the investigating body; including:

  • what steps you should take immediately following any incident
  • how to manage the enforcement body including any interview request
  • what if any remedial work should be performed
  • what steps, if any, you should introduce to avoid future incidents
  • whether to make reparation or compensation early and voluntarily.
Waste crime is seen as harmful to public safety and undermines lawful waste operations, hence it is prosecuted heavily. The range of offences is wide and the environmental permit and exemptions regulations are complex.

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