Companies could be held responsible for wildlife offences committed by their employees under plans from the Law Commission to update conservation rules
In its proposals to simplify and streamline existing wildlife protection rules into a single piece of legislation, the commission has suggested the introduction of vicarious liability, which would hold employers liable for offences committed by their employees in the course of their duties.
The change would follow in the footsteps of Scottish regulation which introduced vicarious liability for wildlife offences last year and would result in a regulatory regime similar to that covering health and safety practices.
The commission admits its plans are contentious and could result in “significant burdens on business”, but it argues that the change would ensure that those ultimately responsible for activities which harm protected species are being held to account.
In asking for feedback on the proposal, the commission reassures organisations that defences would be in place for those with a safe system of work and that employers would not be liable for unsanctioned activities.
The commission’s wider proposals would see the creation of a single statue covering the conservation and protection of wildlife, replacing the “out of date, confused and often contradictory” pieces of species-specific legislation that currently exist.
The new law would not change the existing approach to the protection of wildlife, but would consolidate and simplify the rules covering the conservation of species and biodiversity.
“What we are proposing does not alter the levels of protection currently offered to wildlife, but it will help people understand what their obligations and duties are and what they can and cannot do, and ensure they are properly licensed to do it,” said Frances Patterson QC, who is leading the Law Commission’s project to overhaul wildlife regulation.
Other suggestions made by the commission in its consultation paper include allowing regulators to use the full suite of civil sanctions across all offences and applying consistent criminal penalties for all general wildlife offences of a £5,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment.
The commission also proposed that new regulatory powers should be introduced in England and Wales to tackle invasive non-native species. Similar to those recently imposed in Scotland, the commission suggests that regulators should be able to create orders requiring individuals and organisations to notify authorities if invasive species are found on their land and destroy such species.
The commission’s consultation on its proposals runs until 30 November.