Record bill for Thames Water may be tip of the iceberg

Record bill for Thames Water may be tip of the iceberg.
A record fine imposed on Thames Water in March shows the willingness of the courts to exercise new-found powers, with extra discretion for large businesses.
In imposing a £20.3m fine on the utility company for a catalogue of water pollution offences, Judge Francis Sheridan set a new yardstick, smashing the previous record environmental fine by more than 10 times.
And while much of the recent collective energy across the construction industry has been occupied by the increasingly skyward trajectory in health and safety penalties, environmental sentencing has (again) quietly but decisively set the benchmark for punishing corporate regulatory offenders.
The courts apply definitive guidelines for sentencing both environmental and health and safety cases.
Having done so, there are identifiable starting points and financial ranges for judges to apply when sentencing.
Tasked with achieving proportionality, the judge determined that £20.3m was the appropriate penalty ’to get the message across to shareholders that the environment is to be treasured and protected, and not poisoned’” It is tough to envisage a construction business finding itself liable for this level of environmental offending.
But with the guideline already suggesting a top end fine of £3m for large organisations and a clear judicial will to exceed that in appropriate cases, environmental management systems around the sector suddenly come into sharp focus.
Introduced to bring proportionality to the sentencing process, particularly in the case of very large organisations, the guidelines are now really starting to bite.
Fines have tended to be within the guidelines’ ranges so far but this case provides a clear signal that the courts are becoming more comfortable with their new-found sentencing prowess and are ready to exercise their discretion, where appropriate, particularly for the very largest businesses.

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