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New environmental guidelines are really starting to bite

A recent article identified the extent to which the Sentencing Council’s Definitive Guideline for Environmental Offences is starting to have the…

A recent article published online by the Guardian (12 May – Damian Carrington) identified the extent to which the Sentencing Council’s new Definitive Guideline for Environmental Offences is starting to have the desired effect from the perspective of the Courts and the Regulators.

The article referenced an earlier article published by the Observer in 2013 which reported that between 2005 and 2013 the UK’s 10 biggest water companies experienced more than 1,000 environmental incidents. The article reported that the fines imposed in respect of these incidents totaled approximately £3.5m.

Since the introduction of the new Guideline in July 2014 the eight largest fines alone total more than £5m and as reported last month we have now seen the first £1m fine for a waste and resources company – Powerday.

The new Health and Safety Guideline is also having a similar effect. Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering and National Grid Gas both received £1m fines under the old regime in the weeks leading up to the introduction of the new H&S Guideline in respect of incidents that resulted in a fatality and a broken leg. ConocoPhillips was involved in a case that spanned the introduction of the new H&S Guideline and received a fine of £3m for an incident that did not give rise to any actual harm whereas the Balfour and National Grid cases did.

Scottish Power was recently fined £18m by Ofgem for poor customer service and that is the territory that the Courts and the Regulators would like to see sentencing of Environment and Health and Safety offences heading towards.

As the Courts grow in confidence and begin to utilise their sentencing powers, £1m plus fines will become the norm for larger companies, dragging up fines for smaller and medium size operators.