A LEGAL expert from Chester has warned that new powers for dealing with environmental offences could result in a raft of appeals from companies hit by a £250,000-plus ‘double-whammy.’
Claire Petricca-Riding, an associate at North West law firm Aaron & Partners LLP, based on Grosvenor Court, Foregate Street, believes the civil sanctions may lead to higher legal costs for transport and waste management operators.
The civil sanctions, which come into force on 4 January 2011, will give the Environment Agency a wider range of enforcement options and offer an alternative to criminal prosecution.
They will initially cover offences relating to water resources, hazardous waste and packaging waste. Sanctions available to the Environment Agency will include fixed financial penalties of up to £300, stop notices and restoration notices.
The sanctions are designed to make environmental law enforcement more flexible, by allowing minor breaches to be dealt with quickly without the need for a prolonged court case.
However, Claire claims ongoing uncertainty over how variable monetary penalties (VMPs) of up to £250,000 will be calculated and applied is recipe for trouble.
She said: “The maximum civil penalty of £250,000 is five times higher than the maximum magistrates’ court fine of £50,000, but only the regulator can decide which route to take.
“An operator that would have preferred to take its chances in court may therefore be forced to accept a civil sanction that results in a significantly higher fine. The operator could then be stung again on its subsistence fees, meaning that they would have in effect been fined twice.
“Faced with such a scenario, many operators would appeal. You would then have a trial, just in another format.”
Claire, an environmental law expert and member of the Chartered Institute of Waste Management, added: “Minor breaches may well be dealt with more quickly, but significant cases are likely to involve higher legal costs for operators.”
Aaron & Partners, one of the largest law firms in Cheshire with 20 partners, will be analysing the impact of the new civil sanctions at a free breakfast seminar on Tuesday, November 23.
The seminar takes place from 7.30am - 9.30am at the Park Royal Hotel in Warrington.
For more information and to book a place, call 01244 405555 or visit www.aaronandpartners.com/seminars
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