The following Corporate Crime practice note Produced in partnership with Jeremy Phillips and Charles Forrest of Francis Taylor Building provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:
This Practice Note provides an introduction to environmental criminal liability, offences and the different stages of the criminal process from investigation to sentencing.
For information on specific environmental offences, see: Environmental offences and prosecutions—overview. For information on the investigation and enforcement of environmental crime, see Practice Notes: Environmental prosecution and enforcement policy, Conducting an investigation into environmental crime and Conducting an investigation into environmental crime—checklist.
Some of the most common ways of committing an environmental offence include:
knowingly permitting pollution
breach of a statutory duty
breach of an authorisation (eg a permit)
breach of a prohibition
failure to comply with a notice
An example of such an offence is to ‘knowingly cause’ controlled waste to be deposited.
To knowingly cause does not require intention, fault or any knowledge of action or inaction, only some positive act or operation.
The defendant’s actions need not be the immediate cause of the pollution and whether an act of a third party or natural event will be sufficiently extraordinary to break the chain of causation is a matter of fact and degree. In Empress Car Co, the defendant was held to be liable for the discharge of oil from its oil tank even though it only occurred because an unknown third party opened the tap (ie by maintaining the oil tank they had ‘knowingly caused’ the pollution).
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