Environmental law prosecutions

Environmental law legislation has evolved at a rapid pace over recent years and there is a strict framework in place to protect the environment. It is now more important than ever to keep abreast of key changes to the law so as to minimise the risk of non-compliance. If you are unsure of your obligations, our expert lawyers can provide you with practical advice to ensure that your business is compliant with environmental legislation. 

Whilst some businesses have an obvious potential to impact upon the environment, many others who do not fall into this category find themselves facing enforcement action. This may be following an environmental incident, such as water pollution, or due to non-compliance with complex waste or permitting regulations.

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The Environment Agency

The Environment Agency enforces the legislation in a variety of ways, ranging from civil penalties which it administers directly, to prosecution where the criminal courts decide the appropriate penalty.

The sentencing powers for courts dealing with environmental cases have increased over recent years, and most offences now carry significant fines and the potential for imprisonment of Directors. In some cases the Environment Agency applies for a confiscation order to recover the “proceeds of crime” which can have devastating consequences.

If your business finds itself facing an investigation or prosecution by the agency you need to act quickly to limit both the financial and reputational impact. You need the support of a specialist environmental lawyer to guide you through the process and protect the interests of you and your company.

Stephensons has a team of experienced environmental lawyers who can provide you with the specialist advice and representation required in such cases. Our team includes a former Senior Prosecutor for the Environment Agency and several Solicitors with Higher Rights. This gives us a unique insight into how such cases are investigated and prosecuted, enabling us to get the best possible results for our clients. 

We will work closely with you to understand your business and the issues you are facing. In the initial stages of an investigation we can represent you at the PACE interview and often persuade the Environment Agency that no further action is necessary. However, where criminal proceedings are unavoidable, we can represent you in the Magistrates or Crown Court and ensure that the proceedings have the minimum impact upon you and your business.  

You can talk to one of our specialist environmental law solicitors, without obligation, call us on 0203 816 9274 or complete our online enquiry form.

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Waste, water pollution & permits

Environmental law is complex and constantly changing, businesses must negotiate their way through this plethora of legislation to ensure they operate lawfully. Breaches can be costly both in terms of financial penalties and adverse publicity so it is important that businesses are pro-active in seeking advice, and respond quickly in the event of an incident.

We have a team of experienced environmental experts who can give you practical, clear guidance and find the best solution for you. We will take time to understand your business and the issues you are facing and can pro-actively advise so that you're aware of and compliant with, all relevant environmental legislation. 

Why choose Stephensons?

If your business operations could potentially impact upon the environment then an environmental permit must be obtained from the regulator (local authority or environment agency). We can assist you in applying for a permit, or applying to vary an existing permit, and ensure that any operating conditions are reasonable. We can also assist if your company is facing action by the regulator for breach of permit conditions or unpermitted activities.

Even the best run business can inadvertently breach environmental legislation and the prospect of investigation or prosecution. This may be simply due to an accident which results in pollution to a local watercourse or due to a lack of knowledge of complex, poorly publicised, regulations. A good example of this is the Producer Responsibility Obligations (packaging waste) which, despite being almost 20 years old, many companies to whom they apply are blissfully unaware, that is... until they receive a visit from the Environment Agency.

A member of our expert team previously prosecuted on behalf of the Environment Agency so has an in-depth knowledge of how these cases are investigated and prosecuted. Often, due to respected relationships with regulators, we can ensure that the investigation does not proceed to prosecution. If prosecution is unavoidable we will explore any potential defence or weakness in the evidence and ensure the financial and reputational impact on the company and directors is minimised.

Our expertise includes:

  • Waste regulation, exemptions and permits
  • Regulation of waste facilities such as landfill sites, waste transfer stations, and composting producers
  • Water pollution incidents including cases where there has been a significant fish kill
  • Compliance with Producer Responsibility legislation
  • Action for breaches of trade effluent discharge consents
  • Application for environmental permits (Part A and Part B) and defending court proceedings for breach of permit conditions
  • Applications for confiscation orders under the proceeds of crime where more serious offences are alleged

To speak to a member of our specialist team in relation to a waste, water pollution or permits issue call us without obligation on 0203 816 9274 or complete our online enquiry form

Producer responsibility

Producer responsibility legislation is based upon an extension of the “polluter pays” principle. It places the responsibility for dealing with the environmental impact of products on the shoulders of the company who produces the goods, by imposing a strict regulatory regime on the “producer”. 

There are a number of different products covered by this type of legislation including packaging materials, electrical products, and batteries. The regulations are complex and it can be very difficult for companies to determine whether they apply to them. For example, in the case of packaging, the regulations do not just apply to those companies who manufacture packaging, but also to any company that imports, sells or pack-fills packaged goods.

The Producer Responsibility Obligations Regulations 

The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 1997 have now been in force for almost 20 years, but they were poorly publicised by DEFRA and the Environment Agency. As a result many reputable companies have unwittingly found themselves in breach of the regulations and facing the daunting prospect of prosecution by the Environment Agency. 

The regulations apply to any company or group of companies with a turnover exceeding £2m who handled over 50 tonnes of packaging in the last calendar year. Packaging “handled” includes packaging materials on any products that a company imports or sells, and is not limited to packaging that the company applies to goods. Even where a company is aware of the regulations, this common misconception often results in non-compliance.
 
More companies have been prosecuted for breach of the producer responsibility regulations than environmental crime such as water pollution or waste offences. Fines imposed are based on the costs avoided by the company for every year that it has failed to comply. For companies who have unknowingly been in breach for many years this can result in very large fines.  

Whilst the agency has recently started to use civil penalties (enforcement undertakings) instead of prosecution, companies need expert guidance to understand the extent of their non-compliance and negotiate the terms of such an undertaking. These are a legal agreements, with significant consequences for non-compliance, so are best drafted by a specialist environmental lawyer. 

If you think your company may be obligated under producer responsibility legislation contact our team of experts for advice on 0203 816 9274. We have vast experience of dealing with such cases and have represented many high profile companies in court proceedings and enforcement undertakings. 

We will advise you whether your company is obligated, and if so, assist you in taking the necessary steps to become compliant. We work closely with a number of compliance schemes who will be able to achieve compliance. We can then apply on your behalf to the Environment Agency for an enforcement undertaking. This will address the earlier years’ of non-compliance and resolve the matter without prosecution, and with the minimum cost and adverse publicity.

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As an award-winning top 150 law firm, with over 450 staff based in offices across the country, you're never far from the advice you need.