UK businesses should expect greater scrutiny on environmental offences, says Eversheds

Eversheds associate Alison Messenger has commented following the publication of UK sentencing guidelines for environmental offences.

Messenger said that, as already seen from a number of recent Court of Appeal cases, companies can now expect much greater in-depth scrutiny of their behaviour and their accounts before and at any sentencing hearing, particularly where they have a previous record.

The new guidelines are likely to lead to larger fines for corporate offenders, with fine ranges going up to £3m. Corporates will be categorised in terms of size ranging from ‘large organisations’ (those with a turnover or equivalent of £50m and over) to ‘micro-organisations’ (those with a turnover or equivalent of not more than £2m). An
organisation’s annual turnover or equivalent will indicate the starting point for a fine.

In addition, Messenger added, the guidelines state that for ‘very large organisations‘, where a ‘defendant company’s turnover or equivalent very greatly exceeds the threshold for large companies’, the court may find it necessary to move outside of the suggested range.

She continued: ‘Companies will be expected to provide comprehensive accounts and, if these are not provided, the courts are entitled to draw reasonable inferences as to the offender’s means. The guidelines state that any financial order(s) must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact, which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to improve regulatory compliance.

‘The guidelines will not apply to any other regulatory offences, such as health and safety offences, although the Sentencing Council does expect to publish a consultation on health and safety offences later this year.’