Regulators can tackle environmental offences in various ways without going to court. The Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008 gave the Environment Agency a range of new powers to impose civil (or non-criminal) sanctions, depending on the circumstances of the offence. SEPA will soon have very similar powers under Part 3 of the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. Not all of the civil sanctions listed here are available for every offence. The Environment Agency and SEPA's enforcement documents sets out which ones are available for each kind of offence (see Related Links).
One option is for the offender to promise to put things right, knowing that failure to do so will mean prosecution in court. The promise must be accepted by the regulator to have legal effect. This kind of promise is known as an undertaking and includes:
- Enforcement undertakings where a person who may have committed a pollution offence undertakes to a regulator to take corrective steps;
- Third party undertakings where the offender promises to compensate those affected by pollution.
Another option is for the regulator to serve a penalty notice on the offender. The penalty can be recovered in court as a debt. The penalty notice may take two forms:
- Fixed monetary penalty notices imposing fines of a fixed amount depending on the types of offence;
- Variable monetary penalty notices imposing fines where the regulators decides on the amount according to the gravity of the offence.
In addition, the regulator may serve notices demanding that an operator take steps to curb pollution. If the notice is not followed then the regulator will then prosecute. The notices include:
- Compliance notices requiring steps within a stated period to ensure that an offence does not continue or happen again;
- Restoration notices requiring specified steps within a stated period to secure that things are restored, as far as this is possible, to the situation before pollution took place;
- Stop notices which will prevent a person from carrying on an activity until it it is undertaken properly.