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Companies face clampdown on environmental crime

- Businesses warned of fines of up to £3m for most serious offences

Big businesses found guilty of environmental offences could face fines of up to £3 million when the courts implement tough new sentencing guidelines in July.

New rules, announced by the Sentencing Council this week, are designed to serve as a more powerful deterrent to those flouting regulations covering fly-tipping, waste handling or disposal and environmental permitting offences. The guideline also covers nuisance offenders such as those whose cause noise, smoke, dust or smells.

Environment law specialists at law firm Pinsent Masons say the new criteria means large organisations with a turnover of £50 million and over may be fined up to £3million for a deliberate ‘category one’ serious environmental crime. Levels of fines for non-deliberate offences by large organisations will also increase significantly.

Energy and environment lawyer at Pinsent Masons, Ellie Watson, says: "The new framework encourages the courts to make use of the highest level of fines for some of the more serious offences. It is critical that all of these large organisations with potential environmental impacts – of which there will be many given the relatively low threshold of £50 million – understand the new structure and review internal processes to limit any potential exposure to enforcement action.

"It is often said that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. From July it will be even more important for businesses to have in place up-to-date and effective incident management and environment response procedures.  This will not only help ensure that incidents do not occur in the first place but also allow effective mitigation to be put in place at the earliest opportunity which can also be taken into account by the courts in arriving at a proportionate level of fine.  Businesses would also be well-advised to review the contractual arrangements that they have in place with any sub-contractors as part and parcel of such a precautionary approach.

"The penalty regime will be more stringent but also far more flexible, giving courts the ability to impose higher fines deemed to be proportionate to the company's turnover. This brings the need for robust control of procedures and processes into sharp focus as regulators will come down much harder on offenders.”

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