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Minister supports Magistrates’ new guidance for sentencing environmental criminals

The Environment Minister, Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher, will today launch the Magistrates’ Association’s comprehensive information toolkit covering many aspects of environmental crime that includes, for the first time, guidance on sentencing wildlife and conservation crimes. It shows the forward thinking of the Magistrates’ Association and how seriously they take environmental crime. The toolkit covers many environmental offences and will provide the best advice to magistrates.

WWF and TRAFFIC have taken an active role in supporting and helping to develop the guidance – with other organisations, legal departments, Police and Customs Officers – and applauds the Magistrates’ Association’s decision to work in partnership to develop the best guidance and advice for magistrates across England and Wales.

Michael Meacher, said: “Environmental crime needs to be taken very seriously, and the penalties for environmental offences need to fully reflect the damage caused by the crime, in all its aspects. I welcome the Magistrates’ Associations new information toolkit as a key means of achieving this.”

The reality is that most wildlife and environmental cases are tried in front of magistrates who has no sentencing guidance and little if any training in dealing with these types of cases. It is hoped that the new guidance will result in penalties that fit the crime and sends a clear message to anyone who may be thinking of breaking the law, that you cannot expect to get off lightly in the future.

Harry Mawdsley, Chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, said: “The Magistrates’ Association has recognised that the sentences for environmental crimes imposed by magistrates play a key role in protecting the environment through influencing the future behaviour of both companies, small and large, and individuals. The sentencing guidance being launched today is crucial in ensuring that magistrates are aware of the issues involved and the seriousness of these crimes.”

David Cowdrey, Wildlife Trade Campaign Director for WWF, said: “Research has shown that 50 per cent of wildlife criminals prosecuted nationwide have previous convictions for drugs, violence, theft and firearms offences. Judges are still reliant on case law littered with low fines and poor sentences and this needs to change. WWF hopes that the Lord Chancellor’s department will join the Magistrates’ Association in treating wildlife and environmental crime seriously.”

The Magistrates’ Association also sent a stark warning to all prosecutors who bring cases before their members. Magistrates can only act on the evidence brought before them in court and it is vital for all prosecutors to be familiar with the environmental training materials and sentencing guidance in such cases. It is also important to state the seriousness of these crimes and the huge environmental impact these actions may have both at home and abroad.

Another vital element of this package is the production of a new reference toolkit for the judiciary, which provides case studies across the whole range of environmental offences from the dumping of radioactive waste to illegally selling wildlife products and provides vital information for magistrates and prosecutors alike. This material will be available to magistrates and legal advisers via the web for quick reference and also provides an outline of an information session that could be organised locally.

The Magistrates’ Association consulted with and other government agencies like the Environment Agency, non-governmental organisations and law enforcement agencies across England and Wales about environmental offences to produce these materials.

The sentencing guidance has been designed to concentrate on wildlife crimes committed under the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations (COTES) – which governs the trade within the UK of globally rare species, such as tigers, rhinos and elephants – Customs and Excise Management Act of 1979 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the amendments made by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

David Cowdrey, said: “Poaching for the illegal wildlife trade in areas of the world is the single largest threat to the survival of some species. Game guards and soldiers are being killed on a daily basis trying to protect them and professional smuggling operations and criminal networks are controlling this trade, there is nothing trivial about wildlife trafficking and the guidance are another vital tool to stop the illegal wildlife trade.”

Harry Mawdsley concluded: “The system of precedent based guidance is insufficient. The production of the guidance materials will be able to steer the judiciary and encourage magistrates to use the full range of penalties at their disposal.”