Breaches of UK environmental law are matters of criminal liability and even the most diligent organisations can find themselves on the wrong side of the line, with profound financial and reputational implications. When businesses face action from a regulatory body, our Environmental Prosecutions team is perfectly placed to help.

We specialise in representing clients during regulatory investigations and enforcement proceedings and defending clients in prosecutions by the UK environment agencies and other UK environmental regulators.

With clear, effective advice and a structured and project-managed approach to the investigation and enforcement process, we support our clients and their staff in what can be a difficult and stressful time.

Through early engagement with the issues – and determining the best strategy at the start of the regulatory investigation – we guide our clients through complex regulatory matters. Where possible, we help them to avoid environmental prosecutions through the negotiation of alternative mechanisms such as warning letters, cautions, civil sanctions and enforcement undertakings.

Our team forms part of our wider group advising on business crime matters, including our health and safety, fraud and white collar crime and tax specialists.

Areas of focus

Our environmental prosecutions expertise includes the following:

  • Engaging with all UK environmental regulators – including the Environment Agency (England); Natural Resources Wales; the Scottish Environment Protection Agency; Natural England; the Office for Product Safety and Standards; the Office for Nuclear Regulation; the Marine Management Organisation; the Health and Safety Executive (in its role as COMAH Competent Authority and as the REACH Competent Authority); local authority environmental health and trading standards teams; and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
  • Incident response – we provide a crisis management response service to protect the business and support its staff in the early stages of an environmental incident and we train clients on crisis management procedures.
  • Regulatory investigations – we use a structured and project-managed approach to ensure that the business retains control and has adequate support during the regulatory investigation and to co-ordinate the collection and retention of evidence by the business.
  • Interviews under caution – representing the business and its spokesperson during the formal interview under caution.
  • Civil sanctions and enforcement undertakings – we advise on the merits of alternative methods to criminal prosecution such as enforcement undertakings and lead the negotiations.
  • Restoration orders and compensation – we negotiate restoration orders and compensation following environmental incidents.
  • Advocacy on environmental prosecutions – our specialists have significant experience of advocacy in the Magistrates' Courts.

Acting as advocate in the prosecution of a port operator for alleged discharges of banned substance tributyl tin into the marine environment.

Negotiating the first enforcement undertaking to be accepted for a water pollution offence in Wales.

Advising a multinational petrochemicals company in its defence of a number of criminal prosecutions.

Defending a large bulk oil storage business in an investigation by the COMAH Competent Authority into the safe storage of oil products and alleged oil spills.

Representing an employee under investigation as part of Operation Durable, the Environment Agency's largest ever hazardous waste investigation.

Advising a nuclear licensed site operator on Crown Court prosecution by Environment Agency in respect of unauthorised discharges of radioactive material.

Representing an employee of a charity investigated by the police for alleged wildlife crimes.

Negotiating one of the first enforcement undertakings under the environmental permitting regime for an agri-business issued with a summons.

Acting for a landowner in Crown Court proceedings brought by Natural England in a case described by the Sunday Times newspaper as "a landmark criminal prosecution" and negotiating the restoration order for restoring environmental damage.

Representing employees of an international energy company in the Environment Agency and HSE joint investigation into the Buncefield disaster, Europe's largest peacetime explosion.

Defending a petrochemicals business under investigation by the Dutch authorities for alleged environment offences arising from the supply of its products into the Netherlands.

Representing a variety of clients in the food and drink, energy, agriculture, leisure, manufacturing, transport and construction industries in regulatory investigations, enforcement action and prosecutions for waste offences, water pollution, emissions, product stewardship breaches and non-compliance with habitats and nature law.

Meet the team
Michael Barlow

Michael Barlow Partner

  • Head of Environment
  • Head of Water
  • Head of ESG
Ross Fairley

Ross Fairley Partner

  • Energy and Utilities
  • Head of Renewable Energy
  • Environment

What others say...

The firm provides first-rate response times and they always keep us informed of progress and any problems with delivery.

Chambers UK 2024

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