Tougher penalties for waste crime after fine cap lifted
Fly-tippers and polluters could now face unlimited fines for their offences, after a new law came into effect yesterday (12 March), lifting the cap on magistrates’ fining powers.
The new law, The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Fines on Summary Conviction) Regulations 2015, removes the £5,000 limit for fines handed out for some environmental crimes across England and Wales.
Magistrates will still be limited to handing out maximum custodial sentence periods of six months, but will also now be able to issue higher, more flexible penalties to offenders who have committed the most serious, or ‘level five’, offences.
Any offences committed prior to the regulation’s introduction will still be sentenced under the previous caps.
Offences affected by the regulation
The amended regulations change the maximum penalties for a number of laws, including the following set out by the Environmental Act 1990, which previously carried a maximum fine of £5,000:
- Waste unlawfully deposited – ‘any controlled waste, or extractive waste, deposited in or on any land in the area of a waste regulation authority or waste collection authority’;
- Offences of not complying with a remediation notice – ‘if a person on whom an enforcing authority serves a remediation notice fails, without reasonable excuse, to comply with any of the requirements of the notice’;
- Statutory nuisances – ‘any premises in such a state… as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance’;
- Keeping genetically modified organisms - ‘keeping something which is, and which one knows or has reason to believe is, a genetically modified organism’; and
- Importation, use, supply or storage of injurious substances or articles – ‘the importation, the use for any purpose, the supply of any purpose and the storage of any specified substance or article [that could] cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health or the health of animals or plants’.
‘Fines could run into several thousands’
Speaking about the new regulations, Justice Minister Mike Penning said: “Dangerous criminals will always belong in prison, but it is important that magistrates, who sentence the majority of offenders who come through our courts, have the power to hand down the appropriate punishment with the severity they see fit.
“Criminals should be in no doubt that if they break the law they will face consequences and where a fine is the most appropriate sentence this could run into several thousands.”
Increasing focus on tackling waste crime
The changes in law follow on from guidance by the Sentencing Council, published in February 2014, which recommended that magistrates impose harsher sentences on those found guilty of committing waste crime so that they are ‘hit in the pocket’ and do not profit from circumventing environmental laws.
The government is also focusing its work on tackling waste crime, and just last month the Welsh Government and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) released a joint consultation on enhancing the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales’s enforcement powers when dealing with waste crimes.
The consultation document referenced research from the Environmental Services Association Education Trust (ESAET), which estimates that waste crime costs the UK economy up to £808 million a year.