The Sentencing Council says courts should be tougher on fly-tipping, illegally transporting waste and breaching abatement notices.
The council, which promotes greater consistency in sentencing across England and Wales, said it was alerted to the need for guidelines on serious waste offences by the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group and and the Environment Agency (EA), which enforces environmental crime.
According to a consultation on the guidelines, these groups are concerned that “the levels of fines currently being given in the courts for environmental offences are not high enough and so neither reflect the seriousness of the crime nor have a sufficient deterrent effect”.
The council said it had found, from its own research, that magistrates lacked familiarity with sentencing environmental crimes.
“Magistrates’ experience of sentencing environmental crime is likely to be so infrequent that there is no realistic possibility that substantial experience will be gained by any individual,” the council stated.
The draft guidelines say that fly-tipping and related offences - mostly covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 - should be fined taking into consideration a variety of factors, such as the severity of the case, and the defendant’s history and attitude.
Corporate offenders ‘worst’
The consultation document proposes that there should be higher fines for the most serious offenders, who deliberately dump hazardous chemicals, untreated sewage or sharp objects.
The council suggests the top level of fine for fly-tipping should be £2m for a severe incident of environmental damage by a large company, while medium-sized businesses could be fined up to £690,000 and small business could be fined up to £70,000.
Individuals in breach of the law could face custodial sentences of up to three years, fines of five times their weekly income, community orders or conditional discharges.
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.”
Pressure from Defra
In January this year, MRW reported Defra’s announcement of a crackdown on environmental crime and the welcome it received from the sector. Lord de Mauley said: “The strong message from the government is that waste operators who break the law will not be tolerated.”
Defra chairs the National Fly-tipping Prevention Group, and has been putting pressure on the Sentencing Council to initiate tougher sentencing. A Defra spokesperson said the department had gathered evidence of a wide range of fines for flytippers in England, which demonstrated some of the very low fines that were given.
The consultation closes on 6 June.
According to the most recent Defra data, from 2011-2012:
- The EA dealt with 224 incidents of large-scale dumping in England.
- Local Authorities dealt with over 744,000 fly-tipping incidents, two-thirds of which involved household waste.
- The cost of fly-tipping to councils was around £37.4m.
- There were almost 2,800 prosecutions, 99.6% of which resulted in convictions.