Inspectorate calls on DoE to ‘get tough’ with hard core offenders

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has called on the Department of the Environment (DoE) and its Executive Agencies to get tough on hard core offenders involved in environmental and vehicle-related crime.

The Inspectorate urged the Environment and Heritage Service, Planning Service and Driver and Vehicle Agency to adopt a more direct, determined approach to enforcement as part of its regulatory responsibilities.
The recommendation was one of 15 made by CJI following an inspection of how the DoE and its agencies interfaced with the criminal justice system.
“Crimes against the environment are often motivated by profit and carried out by persistent and hardened offenders,” said Kit Chivers, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“The illegal disposal of waste at unauthorised sites for example is seen by many as a victimless crime yet in reality, this type of offence is very serious as it contaminates land and water as well as air pollution, all of which damages public health. Millions of pounds can be made by those who choose to breach the environmental and planning laws and construct unauthorised developments.
“Similarly, those who commit vehicle-related crime in Northern Ireland can present a road safety risk to other members of the public,” he continued.
CJI Inspectors recommend that, more should be done to further enhance the good enforcement work already being undertaken by the DoE and its Executive Agencies.
“We believe the Department and its agencies need to fully incorporate enforcement within its Strategic and Business Planning,” said Mr Chivers.
“Effective enforcement relies on the support and confidence of the public and other stakeholder organisations, therefore the DoE should develop a clear statement of intent on enforcement in relation to breaches or offences of environmental, planning and road traffic law.
The Chief Inspector continued: “Weak enforcement on the other hand creates inequality. This can occur as illegal operators continue to compete unfairly with compliant businesses. Inequality is also created when private industry is prosecuted for environmental and planning offences yet Government bodies are exempt from prosecution.”
CJI’s inspection also identified the need for partnerships between the DoE, its Executive Agencies and other law enforcement agencies to be further developed.
“By strengthening relationships where intelligence and information is shared, and enforcement action is undertaken hand in hand with other agencies, better use can be made of the resources that exist to deal with those who flout the law,” said Mr Chivers.
He added that Inspectors had found the best deterrent against environmental crimes was an effective enforcement system backed up with appropriate sanctions.
“There should be better implementation of the “polluter pays” principle where the offender is liable for the cost of repairing the damage they have caused and, in the case of an illegal dump, removing the waste from the site and disposing of it in accordance with the law. This cost can far exceed the maximum penalty a court could impose.
“When coupled with the new legislative powers that allow the DoE to re-coup its investigation costs from the offender, this approach to enforcement is likely to be an effective deterrent to most offenders,” Mr Chivers said.
For these reasons CJI has recommended that detailed policies and procedures should be put in place by the Environment and Heritage Service to implement these new powers.
Consideration should also be given to establishing a specialist legal jurisdiction with the option to establish an environment court.
He concluded: “A more robust approach to enforcement should be accompanied by the establishment of a special legal jurisdiction similar to the provision which currently exists for commercial law and the Coroner’s Service.”