Fines for environmental offences rising, data confirms

16th November 2016


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  • Waste ,
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IEMA

Fines levied on companies guilty of committing environmental offences have risen significantly since new sentencing guidelines were introduced in 2014, according to the government's official monitoring body.

Between January 2013 and June 2014, the median fine for an environmental offence in England was £12,500, while the mean was £39,200. But between July 2014, when the Sentencing Council guidelines came into effect, and December 2015 the median increased to £21,500 and mean to £70,600.

Median fine amounts imposed on organisations, 2005-2015

Source: The Sentencing Council

Some organisations have received particularly high fines, which resulted in the sharp increase in the mean penalty imposed, the council noted in its report.

The maximum fines imposed in the Crown Court also rose from £6,000-£100,000 between 2005 and 2012, from £200,000 in 2013, to £500,000 in 2014 and £250,000 in 2015.

The data backs up recent findings from the Environment Agency, which found that fines imposed on waste companies as a result of prosecutions it brought increased by 26%. The agency cited the sentencing guidelines as a key reason for the rise.

Recent fines for water companies have tended to be relatively large, such as the record-breaking £1m levied on Thames Water in January for polluting a canal in Hertfordshire.

Fines increase in line with the size of the organisation and its culpability for the offence. For large businesses (with a turnover of £50m or more), the mean fine between July 2014 and December 2015 was £56,900, and the median £35,000. For very large companies, the mean was £166,200 and median £100,000.

Average fine amounts for organisations, July 2014 – December 2015

Source: The Sentencing Council

However, the data does not take into account the distribution of offences across different harm and culpability categories, so it could be that some very large organisations had been sentenced for serious offences, which would incurred higher fine, the council said.

Aggravating factors that increased the size of fines were found in 79% of cases, the data revealed. Of these, the most common factor (43%) was that the offence had occurred over a period of time or on more than one occasion. Just under a third (32%) of fines reflected a history of non-compliance by the offender, while 25% mentioned that the offence was committed for financial gain.

There were mitigating factors in 79% of cases, which reduced the size of the fine imposed. Almost half (48%) of organisations in these cases were found to have taken action to remedy the problem, while 41% had voluntarily reported the problem and admitted responsibility.

However, the council’s data showed that fines for individuals found guilty of serious offences had not increased in line with expectations, although it was hard to gauge as the median fine for this group of offenders had fluctuated over the past decade, mainly due to the low number sentenced in the Crown Court.

In 2015, the median fine imposed by the Crown Court on individuals was £1,700. The majority (89%) had been sentenced for committing waste crimes.

The council concluded that there was no need to review the guidelines, although it recommended that monitoring of the size of fines should continue.

Median fine amounts received by individual offenders, 2005-2015

Source: The Sentencing Council

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