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Stuart Bell, Donald McGillivray, Ole W. Pedersen, Emma Lees, and Elen Stokes

This chapter is concerned with environmental crime and the enforcement of environmental law. It starts with some consideration of the difficult definition of ‘environmental crime’, including the distinction between moral and legal meanings of the term. Some of the basic framework of environmental crime, which helps to explain several of the approaches to the enforcement of environmental regulation, is then considered. For example, the fact that many environmental crimes are strict liability offences explains why the rate of successful prosecutions is high, but may also provide an explanation as to why some consider the sanctions that are imposed by the courts to be too low. A large part of the chapter is dedicated to a discussion of the enforcement practices adopted by regulatory agencies in England and Wales, including discussion of the use of civil sanctions instead of prosecutions and the recently enacted sentencing guidelines for environmental offences.


This chapter introduces criminal liability for non-compliance with English environmental law. Environmental crime can be defined as behaviour that contravenes statutory provisions for the protection of the ecological and physical environment, where there is some kind of punitive sanction imposed for the contravention, with such provisions sometimes also pursuing the protection of public health. Environmental crime can also include criminal offences created through the common law, such as public nuisance. The purpose of this chapter is to discuss overarching themes, such as key elements of strict liability offences, in criminalizing behaviour that damages the environment, rather than details of specific offences spelt out in particular statutes. The argument here is that environmental crime sits uneasily within the environmental law regulatory landscape, which has been shaped in the UK in recent years by co-operative, ‘better regulation’ agendas that seek to reduce burdens on business.