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Environmental Crime

If you have been charged with an environmental crime, it can be difficult to know what that means and what happens next.

Unlike the more ‘mainstream’ criminal charges our experienced criminal defence lawyers deal with, we have found that many clients charged with an environmental crime do not understand the nature of the charge, how serious it is and what the likely consequences are if they are found guilty. This is completely understandable. Many environmental crimes aren’t the kind you hear about on the news, and some are relatively new offences. The thing all criminal offences have in common, however, is that being charged with one is often a frightening and confusing experience. Our expert environmental crime lawyers understand how you are feeling and will both help you to understand the charge against you and achieve the best outcome possible.

What is Environmental Crime?

There isn’t one singular environmental crime on the books in England and Wales. Instead, there are a range of offences which can be grouped under this category. These include:


Littering may seem relatively minor, but it is still a criminal offence. Littering involves dropping rubbish in a space which is ‘open to the air’ and accessible to the public. This includes places you may have paid to enter, such as theme parks or gardens. It may also surprise you to find out that dropping food waste, chewing gum and cigarette butts are all considered littering. If you are found to have littered, this can be dealt with by either an on the spot fine of up to £150 or, if you go to court, by a fine of up to £2500. Penalties are usually harsher for ‘persistent’ littering, i.e. where authorities believe you have a pattern of doing this sort of thing.


Fly-tipping is the illegal disposal of waste in places which aren’t licensed to accept it. This can range from activities like dumping rubbish and unwanted household items on the side of the road all the way up to illegally dumping toxic and hazardous waste, such as asbestos or chemicals used in industrial processes. If your case is heard in a Magistrates’ Court, it can attract penalties of up to 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to £5000, whilst in a Crown Court imprisonment can be up to 5 years and potential fines are unlimited.

Noise pollution

There are several criminal offences which relate to noise pollution. These can include (but are not limited to) offences related to anti-social behaviour, noise in breach of an abatement order, and failing to put reasonable measures in place to control noise made by industrial activity. Some activities may not be offences at a particular time of day but will be at others. Penalties will vary depending on the severity of the offence, but will usually involve a fine. Confiscation of noise-making equipment is sometimes also permitted. Due to the complexity of this area, if you are concerned about potential criminal charges you should seek tailored legal advice about your liability. Our expert lawyers will be able to explain what laws apply to you and when.


In England and Wales, having a bonfire is not illegal in itself, but you may attract criminal liability if your bonfire has not been permitted by the landowner, causes a nuisance, causes damage or presents a danger to the health and safety of others. A bonfire may constitute a danger to health and safety is the smoke is reducing visibility for drivers or if you are burning waste which may release toxic substances. If you have been issued with an abatement notice regarding your bonfire, failure to comply with this is also a criminal offence and you can be fined up to £5000. Finally, having a bonfire when you have not been authorised to do so by the landowner or where you have not obtained the appropriate local authority permissions can be classed as arson. Arson is a very serious offence, and you should seek legal advice immediately.

Breaking building regulations and other violations of building safety

If you are found to have breached building regulations or health and safety law during construction work, you could be liable for a fine or even imprisonment if there has been a particularly serious breach of health and safety law. If you or your business carried out work in contravention of building regulations, you could be faced with an unlimited fine. If you are the owner of the property where work took place, an enforcement notice can be issued which requires you to rectify the problem at your own cost. Breaches of health and safety law during construction work can in the most serious cases attract an unlimited fine or even prison time, but there are different limits depending on the seriousness of the alleged offence so you should seek legal advice.

Water pollution

Water pollution is the discharge of sewage or other noxious, poisonous or polluting matter into waterways. For example, it would be an offence to dispose of industrial waste by dumping it in a river or allowing it to discharge into a nearby lake. You can also be charged if you have disposed of freshwater vegetation incorrectly. In a Magistrates’ Court, this offence could attract an unlimited fine and up to a year’s imprisonment. In the Crown Court imprisonment can be for up to five years.

Contact Our Environmental Crime Lawyers in London Today

At Saunders, we have years of experience in dealing with all kinds of environmental crime matters. We also offer a free initial consultation to all our clients. Call us today on 020 3553 0702 or complete our online enquiry form and find out how we can help you achieve the best outcome in your case.

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