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MPs' cautious welcome to environmental crime sentencing proposals

A report on sentencing for environmental offences, including fly-tipping, has been published by a group of MPs.

The purpose of the Justice Select Committee report is to feed into the ongoing analysis of the Sentencing Council’s consultation on the sentencing for environmental crimes. The consultation ran from 14 March to 6 June.

The Sentencing Council, which promotes greater consistency in sentencing across England and Wales, initiated the consultation to ensure courts are tougher on fly-tipping, illegally transporting waste and breaching abatement notices.

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 depending on a variety of factors, such as the severity of the case, and the defendant’s history and attitude. A matrix is proposed to help magistrates consider the different elements in cases brought before them.

The Justice Select Committee welcomed the use of a matrix for sentencing. The report indicates MPs would have preferred more flexibility and the inclusion of all environmental offences but it acknowledged that this would have been a much bigger project and would have delayed the process.

The report also raised several other concerns, which were informed by a meeting of interested parties in June, including representatives from Defra’s National Fly-tipping Prevention Group, the Environment Agency and the Magistrates’ Association.

It also said using turnover as a means to categorise corporate offenders was ‘simplistic’, and needed further explanation to suggest is companies should be moved up or down a category.

Another major concern was that magistrates may have problems interpreting financial information, and the committee suggests basic financial training should be given to magistrates, as well as the inclusion of a glossary of financial terms in the final guidance.

A Sentencing Council spokesperson said the proposed Environmental Offences Guideline is scheduled to be published in January 2014 and “come into force shortly after that”.

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