An introductory guide to environmental criminal liability
Produced in partnership with Jeremy Phillips and Charles Forrest of Francis Taylor Building
An introductory guide to environmental criminal liability

The following Corporate Crime guidance note Produced in partnership with Jeremy Phillips and Charles Forrest of Francis Taylor Building provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • An introductory guide to environmental criminal liability
  • Categories of environmental crime
  • Key principles of environmental liability
  • Common defences
  • Enforcement

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.

Categories of environmental crime

Some of the most common ways of committing an environmental offence include:

  1. causing pollution

  2. knowingly permitting pollution

  3. breach of a statutory duty

  4. breach of an authorisation (eg a permit)

  5. breach of a prohibition

  6. failure to comply with a notice

Causing pollution

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