This case dealt with the question of appropriate sentences for criminal offences leading to environmental damage. A company called “Cash for Scrap” and its manager carried out business storing and disposing of demolition materials. Motor vehicles were accepted onto the company property for wrecking and recycling without the necessary resource consent.
The business was operated in a manner harmful to the environment. Cars had their oil filters and fuel tanks punctured and substantial amounts of chemicals and minerals soaked into the ground. The property was close to a creek which discharged into a river, and the ground water in the area below the premises was affected. The manager was charged with offences under the Resource Management Act 1991 and sentenced to three months imprisonment. He appealed against the sentence on grounds of manifest excess and pleaded for a sentence to community work rather than imprisonment.
The court emphasized that the areas in question had been identified as sensitive areas due to their importance for large numbers of mainly endemic wading birds, including some threatened species. The release of contaminants had the potential to threaten the lives of insects, birds and fish.
It was of the view that the lower court had been right to choose the sentencing option that best met the goals of accountability for harm done to the community, denunciation and deterrence. There was a world of difference, in the minds of most members of the community, between a sentence of imprisonment and a sentence of community work. If a sentence of imprisonment were not imposed potential offenders might well regard the economic risk of a fine, or the possible sanction of community work, as a risk worth taking to gain profit from illegal activities. The appeal was dismissed.