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Environmental Crime

Environmental crime covers any unlawful conduct that causes harm to the environment - the term engages a range of legislation and can include the illegal treatment of waste, the unlawful pollution of water, land or air, or the illegal trafficking of wildlife.  

We provide advice and representation to corporates and individuals facing enforcement action, deploying the depth of our regulatory and criminal expertise in order to achieve the best possible outcomes.

In addition, we draw on that expertise to audit an organisation's processes, including offering compliance programmes to businesses seeking to mitigate the risk of causing or facilitating environmental harms and those who wish to improve their ESG profiles.

In the UK, the principal enforcement body for environmental harms is the Environment Agency (the EA), which pursues a number of enforcement options, ranging from advice and warning notices, to civil sanctions, through to criminal prosecution of corporates and individuals. This is a technical and fast moving area of law – the recent introduction of the Joint Unit for Waste Crime with the dedicated objective of tackling serious waste crime has combined the EA, the National Crime Agency and HMRC for the first time, and is likely to mean a paradigm shift towards a more active enforcement landscape in the future.

We have a wealth of experience in providing advice to companies and directors facing enforcement action and are able to provide strategic advice throughout – from advising on whether a business should consider self-reporting an incident in order potentially to secure a more favourable outcome, through to advising on remedial action at the conclusion of the process. Further, where the activity engages multiple jurisdictions, our depth of experience means that we are able to provide expert advice on Mutual Legal Assistance issues, or, where there are confiscation proceedings, we can advise  on the operation of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

In the event that enforcement action is in prospect, it is essential that specialist regulatory and criminal law advice is sought at the earliest opportunity in order to mitigate the legal risks, minimise damaging reputational issues and to steer a course towards the best possible outcome.

Alongside the provision of strategic advice and representation to those facing investigation, we are also able to work closely with organisations to conduct an audit of their processes in order to mitigate the risk of causing or facilitating environmental harms through the business operations.

The precise model will depend on the organisation, but an audit will engage a review of an organisation's processes in order to minimise the risk of the direct contravention of environmental legislation, or a wider review of ESG measures in order to protect against the risk of the facilitation of environmental harms by other, linked harms, such as financial crime. For example, there is evidence that corruption, bribery and money laundering are often linked to environmental harms, particularly in countries with a weak rule of law, and we specialise in advising organisations on how to mitigate the risks of such conduct occurring in their name.

In practice, this will involve a review of the organisations existing processes to identify any weaknesses, drafting effective and proportionate policies and guidance, undertaking or establishing risk assessments, or providing training and courses to ensure compliance measures are engaged going forward. We are also able to advise organisations on the risks that may attach to specific projects or transactions, whether those risks concern bribery and corruption, potential money laundering, or the breach of sanction controls, for example, all of which may facilitate or could engage environmental harms.  

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