The Scottish Government is a strong supporter of environmental justice and has undertaken a significant programme of reform to the justice system aimed at improving environmental regulation. It is also working to tackle environmental crime in the criminal justice system. The court system in Scotland is currently undergoing a period of comprehensive reform to ensure that the system deals with all cases proportionately. The level of the Judicial Officer, Court, and the time and money expended in resolving a case should be proportionate. Implementation of the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 will continue in 2016. Ultimately Scotland aims to have a system where, through the appropriate streaming of cases and appeals to the right courts, cases are dealt with swiftly and efficiently, and delays are minimised.

In any environmental matters before the Courts, case management will minimise the potential for delay which could impact on the viability of projects. On the criminal side, the Scottish Government continues to bear down on wildlife crime. The Scottish Sentencing Council has been established and has the objective of promoting consistency and transparency in sentencing practice and to encourage better understanding of sentences across Scotland. In future, this has the potential to include the sentencing of environmental offences.

The Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 and the wider Better Environmental Regulation Programme are designed to provide a simpler legislative framework so that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) can be more transparent, consistent and targeted in carrying out its regulatory functions. This will ensure more effective and efficient protection of the environment and reduce the regulatory burden on businesses. Once fully implemented, the Regulatory Reform Act will deliver a range of improvements to the framework of environmental regulation and protection in Scotland, making a significant contribution to environmental justice.

The Regulatory Reform Act enables the creation of a range of new civil enforcement measures for SEPA, including fixed and variable monetary penalties, enforcement undertakings and non-compliance penalties. Section 40 of the Regulatory Reform Act creates a new offence relating to significant environment harm which provides that it is an offence for a person to act, or permit another person to act, in a way that causes or is likely to cause significant environmental harm or fail to act, or permit another person not to act, in a way such that (in either case) the failure to act causes or is likely to cause significant environmental harm whether locally, nationally or on a wider scale. The maximum penalty for a person convicted is an unlimited fine, imprisonment for up to 5 years, or both.

The Scottish Government is seeking views on the following questions:

  • What types of cases (civil or criminal) would be considered to fall within the term ‘Environmental’?
  • Whether there should be a specialist forum to hear environmental cases? and
  • How the proposed changes will improve how environmental cases are dealt with in Scotland?

The deadline for response is 10th June 2016. We are formulating our response to the consultation and would welcome your feedback to incorporate into this. To have your say, please email the compliance team at or alternatively complete the contact form. To discuss this further please call Melanie Kendall-Reid on 01252 87 87 22.

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