05th December 2017
Environment Agency Investigations and Prosecutions
The Environment Agency (EA) is the primary regulatory body in England and Wales tasked with overseeing the protection and enhancement of the environment.
In addition to promoting the Environment, the EA also protects the impact of regulated and non-regulated activities on the environment. To achieve this, it has at its disposal a broad range of enforcement penalties, sanctions and notices.
Failure to comply with notices or sanctions will often result in a criminal investigation and possible criminal proceedings.
Our Regulatory lawyers are experts in dealing with criminal law and its use within the regulatory framework.
What is enforcement action?
There are four key objectives to enforcement action taken by the EA:
• Stop offending
• Restore or remediate affected land / environment
• Prevent illegal activity
• Punish environmental offending
At each stage of enforcement action the EA can issue notices and sanctions requiring action to be taken or requiring activities to stop.
These are just some of the notices and sanctions that the EA can use against you and your business:
• Stop notice
• Suspension notice
• Restoration notice
• Enforcement notice
• Notice to remove waste
• Anti-pollution notice
• Revocation of environmental permit
• Variation of environmental permit conditions
• Fixed Penalty notice
Failure to comply with these notices is often punishable by criminal prosecution. In many cases it is possible to appeal against an enforcement notice if there are grounds to confirm that the notice has been incorrectly applied.
What happens during an investigation?
In the event that you or your business is accused of committing an environmental offence, it is vital that you take early and expert advice from an experienced lawyer.
There will almost certainly be a history of inspections and non-compliance reports before a criminal investigation is launched. However, the first that you know of such a criminal investigation might be when you receive a letter inviting you to attend an interview under caution.
An interview under caution is just part of the evidence gathering exercise, which may also involve taking statements from employees and customers, seizing waste returns and other business documents, taking photos and inspecting sites. The whole purpose of a criminal investigation is to gather evidence to establish if environmental offending has occurred and who is responsible.
Taking advice from experienced criminal regulatory lawyers about how to handle an investigation is crucial to ensuring that you and your business are protected.
What happens if I am prosecuted?
If you or your business is successfully prosecuted by the Environment Agency it could mean unlimited fines or prison.
Even if it is just your limited company that is prosecuted, you as a director could be personally liable if there is evidence that through your actions the company has committed environmental offences.
These are just some of the environmental offences we deal with:
• Fly tipping.
• Failure to comply with the conditions of a waste permit.
• Carrying on a regulated activity without a waste permit.
• Water discharge offences.
• Failure to comply with notices.
You will have to appear at court and will be asked to respond to formal paperwork and documentary evidence gathered by the Environment Agency or lawyers on its behalf. If you attended an interview under caution, a transcript of what you said is almost certainly going to be included in this paperwork.
The Magistrates’ court is going to want to know how you intend to deal with the charges against you or your business and may not be willing to let you have as much time as you think you need to prepare your case. If the offences alleged are particularly serious then you might be sent to the Crown court to be dealt with.
These are just some of the reasons why you should have a lawyer represent yours and your business’s interests at court.
A person convicted of environmental offences can be sent to prison.
A company convicted of environmental offences can be made the subject of an unlimited fine.
In addition to these penalties, the court can also:
• Disqualify you from being a director in the future;
• Confiscate your assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002;
• Order the forfeiture of equipment used in the commission of an offence;
• Disqualify someone from driving;
• Order compensation to be paid;
• Seize vehicles involved in the commission of environmental offending;
• Make a Remediation order making you pay for the cost of restoring the land or environment where offences occurred to its proper state.
How we can help and our experience?
Our team of Regulatory lawyers are on-hand to advise, assist and represent you through any action taken against you by the Environment Agency.
Their expertise in dealing with criminal investigations and prosecutions brought by regulatory bodies is essential in ensuring that you and your business understand what is happening and how best to defend yourself.
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