As of the 1st July this year, the way in which sentences are issued to companies found to be in breach of environmental laws will change. On average, penalties are increasing in value by up to 33%. For example, the minimum fine expected for a minor offence can now be between £7,000 and £25,000.
The severity of the offence will first of all be categorised according to the degree of culpability and harm created. In the case of culpability, the categories are deliberate, reckless, negligent and low/no culpability; categories of harm are ranked from Category 1 (the most serious) to Category 4 (the least serious). The size of the organisation will then be considered in order to reference the appropriate guidelines for starting points and ranges for sentences.
Aggravating and mitigating factors will then be considered in order to adjust the sentence accordingly. The guidelines then advise that the courts ‘step back’ and review whether the sentence as whole meets, in a fair way, the objectives of punishment, deterrence and removal of gain derived through the commission of the offence. It can then consider any factors which indicate a reduction in the sentence, such as assistance to the prosecution or a guilty plea.
These changes demonstrate a tightening of the regulatory system and an increasing need for companies to understand their responsibilities with respect to environmental regulations. If you would like help identifying your responsibilities, or if you require support relating to a breach of conditions, then please contact James Dodds on 01332 871882.