New civil enforcement powers for green watchdogs

For the first time in the UK two green watchdogs have been given civil enforcement powers to help them in the fight against environmental crime.

From today (3 February) Environment Agency and Natural England today became the first regulators to be given new powers aimed at giving them greater flexibility to enforce environmental law.

Under the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 the new powers will allow both agencies to issue fines, on-the-spot-penalties and compliance notices.

Sanctions will provide an alternative to criminal prosecutions for regulators for the first time, which environment secretary, Hilary Benn feels can be ‘more proportionate’ and ‘reflects the fact’ the majority of non-compliance by businesses is unintentional.

Mr Benn, said: “These new powers will help make the system fairer for the law-abiding majority of businesses and will give regulators a practical and effective alternative to prosecution.

“The Environment Agency and Natural England, the first bodies to be given these powers, will have access to flexible and proportionate sanctions that will strengthen the protection of the environment and human health when tackling businesses who break the law.”

The change was made because Benn considered the existing system to be ‘too reliant on costly and time consuming’ criminal prosecutions.

However, the new powers will not replace existing informal methods such as advice and guidance and businesses and individuals will have access to an appeals process through an independent and impartial tribunal.

Luke Walsh

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