Back in October 2015, the introduction of sentencing guidelines for environmental penalties meant that it was only a matter of time before companies were found guilty of breaching the law and that these companies would be hit hard.
A water utilities company was fined £1 million following a guilty plea to two pollution offences. The damage was caused when polluting matter was discharged from a sewage treatment works into the Grand Union Canal.
The judge stated that the time had come for sentences for environmental offences to be “sufficiently severe to have a significant impact on the organisation’s finances”.
Although the fine of £1 million can hardly be described as ‘light’ the penalty was less than it could have been. By pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity and co-operating in the investigation, the company in question managed to keep the fine as low as possible.
Small businesses will not be hit with £1 million fines but penalties will be large enough to have an impact. The Court of Appeal has stated that fines for the most serious offences could be equivalent to “100% of a company’s pre-tax net profits”. In other words the courts want businesses to take managing environmental issues such as pollution prevention extremely seriously.