Part 3 of the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 allowed Ministers to give powers to regulators to impose civil sanctions for regulatory non-compliance, rather than proceeding with criminal prosecutions. The sanctions include fixed and variable monetary penalties, compliance notices and restoration notices, stop notices and enforcement undertakings.
The Environmental Civil Sanctions (England) Order 2010 and Environmental Civil Sanctions (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2010, which came into force on 6 April 2010 in England (similar legislation came into force on 15 July 2010 in Wales), then gave the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England (NE) the power to impose civil sanctions for specified environmental offences such as those relating to hazardous waste, waste packaging, nitrate pollution and water pollution. The EA introduced civil sanctions for a limited number of offences in January 2011 and proceeded to impose its first civil sanction in July 2011.
In summer 2011, NE consulted on the introduction of civil sanctions with regard to offences relating to Sites of Special Scientific Interest, complaints relating to injurious weeds and breaches of licences issued under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932, the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and the Deer Act 1991. Following the consultation and ministerial approval, the NE is now, as of 3 January 2012, able to impose civil sanctions in relation to these offences. This will provide a much wider gambit of options for NE to deal with breaches, as they were previously limited to issuing a warning letter or proceeding to a full criminal prosecution.
There is still much speculation about when civil sanctions will be introduced for offences under the Environmental Permitting regime, which will change the landscape in terms of enforcement responses available to the EA.