SJM’s environmental crime and justice issue

Hazel CroallHazel Croall is consulting editor of the SJM, and theme editor of the special issue on environmental crime and justice published last month. She is also Professor Emerita at Glasgow Caledonian University. Continuing our series of editors’ posts, she reflects on the editorial decisions that lay behind the issue.

Scottish Justice Matters has thus far looked at what some criminologists call conventional crime rather than what are often described as white collar, corporate crimes or the crimes of the powerful. Despite the enormous harms which they cause economically, socially, and physically, whether their victims are individuals, non-human animals or the planet, are not widely regarded as ‘real crime’.

As guest editor I was concerned to gather together a range of contributions which reflected the broad scope of environmental crimes, the damage which they cause, the wide range of offenders involved, and the challenges which they pose for criminal justice. I was also keen to involve criminologists and academics engaged in the development of green criminology, alongside, in the tradition of SJM, a range of practitioners and, importantly for this edition, activists.

Initially therefore I invited contributions from a number of people including Nigel South, one of the pioneers of green criminology, along with Rob Smith and Andrew Watterston whose work on rural entrepreneurship and crime and pollution respectively I was familiar with. They accepted our invitation, as did Hugh Pennington, whose expertise in the area of food poisoning needs no introduction. I had long followed, and used, the work of Rob Edwards in relation to the environment, naming and shaming the worst pollution offenders and exposing the many concerns over nuclear safety. ┬áHe agreed to be interviewed – one of the most interesting experiences in creating this edition. Not only did it provide us with a feature but it also raised many other questions to be followed up.

The topicality of our theme became immediately evident with the publicity attracted by the conference of the Environmental Crime Task Force and the comments in late 2014 by Frank Mulholland, the Lord Advocate, about the possible creation of an Environmental Court and various other innovative sanctions, which I have long argued for. Unfortunately the Crown Office declined to provide a contribution at this time, although we were able to obtain an interesting contribution from Gayle Howard from SEPA touching on this.

A range of relevant organisations were also contacted to deal with other aspects of the topic. Here again we met with enthusiasm and the edition includes discussions of the nature and regulation of fishing and the killing of birds of prey, particular issues of relevance to Scotland. Environmental crime is of course a global issue and environmental injustice often involves the export of harms and hazards from the most to the least advantaged countries in the world – as described by Lieselot Bisschop – thereby raising immense regulatory issues. Environmental injustice is also seen in the impact of environmental harms on those who already suffer from other forms of deprivation and from issues concerning the right of communities to information and participation in decisions which affect their environment – reflected in the Aarhus Convention described by Mary Church from Friends of the Earth.

The themed section of this edition also considers the use of the environment in rehabilitation as seen in the work of care farming and in after care for ex prisoners in Tasmania and many more such schemes could form a welcome addition to sentencing options.

Many many more aspects of this topic could have been considered, which would have required at least another edition! At a local level for example, wardens and community based police officers daily encounter issues concerning the environment, such as littering, graffiti and noise pollution which can so fundamentally affect the ambience of an area. At a global level, much more could be exposed about the harms suffered in third world countries by indigenous populations and about the need for tougher and more rigorous international laws and conventions to close the gaps in the law so skilfully exploited by multinational corporations – vividly demonstrated in the Bhopal example. Much more could be said about different kinds of pollution and the involvement of some of our major companies in despoiling parts of Scotland’s countryside. There are many issues surrounding regulation which we could only touch on, many of them involving the difficulties faced by regulators in the current climate of austerity which across the board of regulation all too often leads to fewer inspections and fewer offences being detected and brought to justice.

We await a report on sentences for environmental crime in respect of which there are also important questions. What for example can be done with large companies who pollute and endanger safety? Even enormous fines may be seen as a slap on the wrist, and enforced closure threatens employment with a spillover effect on communities – the so called deterrence trap. Criminologists have long discussed alternative approaches including for example forms of corporate probation or community payback – forms of corporate restorative justice. Indeed,┬árecidivist corporations could be taken into public ownership for a limited period of time – a bit like bailing out banks. What better way to ensure that polluters do indeed pay, by requiring them to improve rather than damage the environment? Current discussions about environmental crime do suggest that this is an area in which Scotland can take some radical steps. We hope that future editions of SJM will be able to welcome such initiatives.

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