Environmental Audit Committee

12 May 2004 Tougher and more flexible sentencing needed

12 May 2004 Tougher and more flexible sentencing needed

The Environmental Audit Committee publishes today its Sixth Report of Session 2003-04 on Environmental Crime and the Courts .  The Report concludes that the current situation with regard to the sentencing of environmental crimes is profoundly unsatisfactory.  Despite recent improvements and some changes to sentencing which may take some time to have effect, sentencing is inflexible and fines meted out to offenders too often verge on the derisory. Consequently, punishments have little deterrent effect and the incidence of environmental crime continues to grow.

The Committee concludes:

“We are concerned that the general level at which fines are imposed neither reflects the gravity of environmental crimes, nor deters or punishes adequately those who commit them.  This is clearly unsatisfactory.” (para 16)

“It is clear that, given the current paltry range of sentences available, there is simply insufficient scope properly to tailor sentences to offenders.”  (para 18)

The Committee is particularly concerned that a minority of commercial bodies deliberately flout environmental regulations in order to increase profits or avoid costs, in the knowledge that, if they are caught, their punishments will be slight.

“The current sentencing system is just not flexible and imaginative enough adequately to punish corporate bodies… It is disgraceful that some companies openly boast about their crimes as though they manifested some sort of commercial talent…The Government must adopt a much tougher stance with businesses - regardless of their size and nationality - which flagrantly flout the law.”  (para 26)

Information and co-operation are key to dealing effectively with environmental crime.

“The Government has shown itself to be sufficiently joined-up to begin to tackle anti-social behaviour.  It now needs to ensure that it works in a co-ordinated fashion…. to tackle the currently poor sentencing record for offences against the environment.  Only by doing so will it effectively begin to deal with the blight that is environmental crime.” (para 46)

Notes for Editors

1. The Environmental Audit Committee established its sub-Committee on environmental crime on 12 November 2003  in order to conduct a number of short inquiries.  It announced its first inquiry, into Environmental Crime and the Courts in a press release 12 December 2003.  Details of all the sub-Committee’s press releases and inquiries, together with its Reports, oral evidence and other publications, are available on the Committee’s Internet home page.

2. The EAC’s sub-committee will be known as the Sub-Committee on Environmental Crime. Its membership is as follows:

Chairman:     Mr Peter Ainsworth, MP

Mr Colin Challen, MP, Mr Paul Flynn, MP, Mrs Helen Clark MP, Mr Simon Thomas MP,  Sue Doughty, MP

The sub-Committee has already concluded its second inquiry into Fly-tipping, Fly-posting, Litter, Graffiti and Noise, and is currently conducting its third inquiry in on Wildlife Crime.  The Report on Environmental Crime and the Courts was referred to the main Committee and agreed on Wednesday 5 May.