Firms that deliberately breach legislation and cause substantial harm to the environment will face fines of up to £2 million in England and Wales, under proposed sentencing guidelines
The Sentencing Council has published a draft of its first guidance for magistrates on penalties for environmental offences, saying that they should be imposing bigger fines for the most serious cases.
The guideline outlines suggested fines for offences related to waste management and disposal, waste permits and nuisance, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Environmental Permitting Regulations (England and Wales) 2010 and the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1989.
According to the guidance, magistrates should impose fines based on the level of harm caused, the level of culpability – whether the offence was committed deliberately, recklessly or negligently – and the size of the organisation. The council has defined organisation size in terms of turnover: large firms are those with a revenue exceeding £25.9 million a year; medium sized those with a turnover of between £6.5 million and £25.9 million; and small firms have a turnover of no more than £6.5 million.
The starting point for penalties for large firms that deliberately dispose of dangerous polluting waste or cause substantial harm to the environment, for example, would be £750,000 under the proposals, but they could face fines of up to £2 million.
Meanwhile, reckless acts that cause serious harm should carry fines of up to £1 million, while negligent firms that pollute the environment causing long-term damage should receive penalties of between £55,000 and £395,000.
Penalties for medium-sized firms should extend to £690,000 in the most serious of cases, according to the guidelines and up to £70,000 for small companies.
Sentencing Council member and magistrate Katharine Rainsford said: “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.”
According to figures from the Environment Agency, the largest fine issued in 2011 for a waste offence was £170,000.
The Sentencing Council’s draft guideline, which will apply in England and Wales only, is the subject of a public consultation which closes on 6 June.