Good progress in Enforcement in DOE but more work required


GOOD progress was evident in increasing the profile and importance of enforcement with the Department of Environment (DOE) and its agencies. That’s the view of Deputy Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland, Brendan McGuigan in a follow-up inspection published today (Thursday 10 November 2011) for Enforcement in the Department of Environment.

There are three particular areas within the DOE where enforcement is used – Planning Service (PS), the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), and the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA).
The initial report in 2007 made 12 recommendations. In this follow-up report 30% of the recommendations were achieved while a further 46% were partially achieved and the other recommendations were either not achieved or rejected.
Mr McGuigan said, “Enforcement staff across each of the DOE agencies have demonstrated a strong commitment to protecting the environment and improving road safety but expressed concern that their enforcement activities were not providing an effective deterrent - particularly in profit motivated crime.
“The establishment of the Environmental Crime Unit in the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has gone some way to making a difference and is a notable success in terms of tackling serious environmental damage. It has led the way in financial investigation and subsequent confiscation of assets proceedings. Enforcement is beginning to send out the message – ‘the polluter pays’.”
However, it is CJI’s considered view that the Unit has not been 'adequately resourced’ and that only the ‘high profile’ cases have been addressed.  “It is critical that more work is done and that prosecutions are brought to bear on those who flagrantly breach the law in other waste cases, and to those who deliberately damage the natural and built heritage,” added Mr McGuigan.
The Planning Service has also invested heavily in its enforcement capabilities with supporting IT database and management information systems since the last inspection.
Of note is the recent decision by the Executive to transfer planning functions to the new District Councils which is to be established under the Review of Public Administration.
“The significant improvements by the PS and their Regional enforcement teams in managing to significantly reduce case backlogs over the past three years will need to be sustained in any new governance arrangements. Austerity measures must not be used as an excuse to undermine the good work achieved to date.
“The Driver and Vehicle Agency has reduced vehicle excise duty (road tax) and MOT evasion to levels more comparable to England and Wales. That said the DVA should strengthen its enforcement of commercial vehicles as a means of improving road safety. Some commercial vehicles are a risk to all road users,” said Mr McGuigan.
The follow-up report also reiterated CJI’s ‘wish to see greater protection for enforcement within government departments, including more transparency in the implementation of enforcement policy and the decision-making process for prosecutions’.