By James Slack and Matthew Hickley
Magistrates have been told to hammer litterers with big fines because environmental crimes are ‘arguably the gravest of all problems’ facing Britain.
Guidelines endorsed by a leading judge say courts should take a role ‘equal to Greenpeace’ in saving the environment and fighting against pollution and waste.
They propose a fine of £600 for an offence such as not taking home rubbish created by a party at a village hall – more than double the average fine for assault while dog foulers should be hit with £150 fines, according to the Magistrates’ Association document.
Such heavy fines for ‘environmental crimes’ compare with relatively modest court penalties for many serious criminals which see sex offenders whose crimes are deemed suitable to be punished by a fine pay an average of £285, along with £237 for violent offenders and £286 for fraudsters.
The handbook, written for JPs across the country, states ‘there has been some concern that the levels of fines and sentences given in environmental cases are not high enough’.
Observers said the guidelines showed how out of touch the courts have become with ordinary people’s values, and contrasted the ‘coercive’ approach of using harsh fines for littering with the ‘leniency’ routinely showed towards muggers and shoplifters.
In the foreword to the manual, Lord Justice Sedley writes: ‘The despoliation of the environment is arguably the gravest of all the problems we are going to hand on to our children and grandchildren.
‘They will not thank us for having done too little about it at a time when action and prevention were feasible.
‘All criminal justice is complicated. There are at least two sides to every story, and sentencers have to be alive to them all.
‘But environmental crime, if established, strikes not only at a locality and its population but in some measure too at the planet and its future. Nobody should be allowed to doubt its seriousness.’
Lord Justice Sedley, a former Communist, is no stranger to controversy. Two years ago he called for everyone in Britain – including foreign visitors – to have their DNA profiles stored on the national database to stop guilty criminals going free.
Criminologist Dr David Green, of the Civitas think-tank, said: ‘These guidelines are inconsistent with the leniency displayed towards what most people would see as a far more serious offences of violence against the person, or straightforward theft.
‘Most people would regard stealing, even from a shop, as more serious than dropping litter.’
He added: ‘It is part of a wider pattern – a trend towards heavy-handed interference and surveillance.