6 Nov 2013

New sentencing options for polluters not needed, says minister

2:41 pm on 6 November 2013

The Government has rejected a suggestion that more flexible sentencing options for judges are needed to help the fight against agricultural polluters

In a speech to the Environmental Compliance Conference this week, Environment Court judge Craig Thompson says more imaginative sentencing options could lead to better outcomes for both the environment and farmers.

Judge Thompson suggests that judges should have the power to shut down the worst offenders altogether.

He says those farmers or farm companies place a huge burden on the enforcement and prosecution resources of councils that are unfortunate enough to have them as ratepayers.

At the other end of the spectrum, Judge Thompson suggests farmers who commit a one-off unintentional breach of the Resource Management Act should be able to enter a diversion-like scheme where guilt is admittted, a community-based sentence imposed and, when completed, the plea withdrawn and charge dismissed.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman believes the judge has hit the nail on the head. "We need to drive those companies that refuse to clean up their ways out of business," he says.

Dr Norman says repeat offenders clearly don't learn from the current penalties but the judge is also correct to suggest some kind of diversion scheme for small-scale offenders.

However Environment Minister Amy Adams says the system already has the sentencing tools that it needs.

"If people are knowingly breaching consents and polluting the environment they should be dealt with harshly and get a very clear message that that's not acceptable.

"Similarly if the breaches are a very technical management or compliance issue that really don't have an impact on the environment I would expect that to be taken into account."

Ms Adams said the expectation is that people who are not taking care of their environmental responsibilities should be penalised appropriately.