The Environment Agency has the ability to pursue both criminal and civil proceedings against individuals and companies who breach the regulations. This was evidenced recently in a case against two company directors and a company secretary. All three received suspended sentences for breaching permit conditions at two waste sites.
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The Environment Agency
The Environment Agency was established in 1996 “to protect and improve the environment”. It has a wide remit, overseeing fisheries, contaminated land, rivers, water resources, major industry and waste, and conservation and ecology.
The Environment Agency also has the power to enforce laws that protect the environment – and take legal action if these are breached. The Agency has two options available where a breach occurs:
- Impose civil sanctions
- Pursue a criminal prosecution
To impose civil sanctions, the Agency must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an offence has been committed. An example of civil sanctions is enforcement undertakings. This is a voluntary agreement. It involves the individual/organisation at fault taking action to address the damage they have caused.
An enforcement undertaking was recently accepted by Yorkshire Water after a sewage discharge led to pollution in Leeds. Storm tanks had filled to capacity and were overflowing into the watercourse. However, Yorkshire Water was not aware of the problem because the level alarms did not go off. The result was environmental damage across a 3.3km area. As part of the enforcement undertaking, Yorkshire Water paid £300,000 to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. The Trust intends to use the money to fund a series of projects at nature reserves in the Lower Aire valley.
The Environment Agency can also pursue criminal prosecutions, but only where there is a realistic prospect of securing a conviction. Criminal prosecutions are normally seen as a last resort, but they do happen.
One recent example is the prosecution against SC Chadwicks and Sons Ltd. Two company directors and the company secretary were accused of breaching Environmental Permit conditions at two waste sites. Waste was not being processed properly, meaning more waste was being brought onto the site than was removed. Consequently, there was a high risk of pollution and fire. The company ceased trading, leaving the local council to clear the sites – a task which is thought to have cost around £3million. Two of the defendants were sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment suspended for 18 months. The third was sentenced to 14 weeks’ imprisonment suspended for 18 months.
Another example is that of two men who were prosecuted for illegally fishing for crayfish on the River Derwent. One defendant was fined £400 with costs of £690. The other was fined £333 with costs of £683.
Criminal defence solicitors – England and Wales
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Call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.