22 July 2004 NEW INQUIRY

22 July 2004 NEW INQUIRY


Environmental crime covers a wide range of issues, such as waste, pollution, anti-social behaviour, and wildlife offences.  Environmental crimes affect significant numbers of people, while the range of laws governing such crimes crosses the public/private law divide. There is concern that too many environmental crimes go unprosecuted or insufficiently punished. 

On 12 November 2003 the Environmental Audit Committee appointed a Sub-committee to examine how the Government, judiciary and other bodies are helping to secure access to environmental justice in England and Wales. In what will be the fourth, and final, inquiry in this series, the  Sub-committee intends to look at corporate environmental crime.

Over the course of the Sub-Committee's inquiries into environmental crime it has become clear  that a significant proportion of environmental crime is caused by corporate bodies. An offence may be a deliberate act, a planned strategy which allows the offender  to circumvent the law for commercial advantage, as evidenced by incidences of fly-tipping or fly-posting.  It could also be  the result of culpable negligence; for example, the illegal discharge of waste into rivers or a failure to maintain equipment which lead to a pollution incident.  There are also those environmental crimes committed through ignorance of the duties and responsibilities incumbent on corporate bodies.

As part of the final inquiry we are particularly seeking views on the following questions:

(1) Do the bodies responsible for investigating and prosecuting corporate environmental crime have sufficient powers and resources to do so? Are they able to conduct robust and effective investigations into the source of the crime and mount effective prosecutions that target those who are responsible for the crime, as well as the person actually committing it?

(2) Are the penalties for corporate environmental offences adequate? If not, how can penalties and punishments be better targeted to ensure that the criminal justice system is effective in acting as a deterrent? 

(3) What alternatives, outside the criminal justice system, should be considered for dealing with corporate environmental offences in order to reduce environmental harm by business?  Should there be greater use of alternative means of punishment, such as the use of prohibition notices, civil penalties and the confiscation of company assets? 

(4) Are there too many environmental duties and responsibilities on corporate bodies which serve only to stifle their ability to compete in the market place? Are the laws and regulations applied uniformly across the business sector?

(5) Is the Government doing enough to educate the business sector in terms of their legal obligations with regard to environmental issues which impact on their business? Is there sufficient dialogue and co-operation across Government and the business community to endure that best practice, for example, can be shared?   

The Committee would be grateful to receive memoranda from interested individuals and organisations relating to these and any other connected issues.  Written evidence should be sent to the Second Clerk to the Sub-committee, Miss Lynne Spiers, by Friday 3rd September 2004 by e-mail to [email protected] (with a hard copy by post).   A brief guidance note on the preparation and submission of evidence is available on the Committee's web pages.