Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs what recent discussions he has had on the need to strengthen sentencing guidelines for waste offences.
Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs: I have not had any recent discussions regarding the need to strengthen sentencing guidelines for waste offences, as I consider there to be adequate provision within the current sentencing guidelines. Maximum penalties for waste offences heard within the magistrates’ court are 6 months imprisonment and/or a £50,000 fine, and for waste offences heard at the Crown Court, 5 years imprisonment and / or an unlimited fine.
The Government, through legislation, lays down the maximum, and in some cases the minimum, sentence available for each offence, requiring a judge to carefully analyse the individual facts of each offence, taking into consideration the gravity of the crime, the consequences of the offence to the victim and to society, and the mitigating circumstances relating to the defendant. The Sentencing Council of the Lord Chief Justice’s Office has published Definitive Guidance on environmental offences, which references two relevant Northern Ireland convictions on indictment for waste offences from 2012 and 2016. https://www.judiciaryni.uk/judiciary-decision-types/environmental-offences
When appropriate, my officers within the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s Enforcement Branch will continue to thoroughly investigate waste crime in order to present the best available evidence to the Public Prosecution Service and subsequently to the law courts. Beyond conviction, and after a pertinent evaluation of the facts, sentences imposed for waste offences are ultimately a matter for the judiciary.