Thames Water had been prosecuted by the Environment Agency under s.33 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 for depositing controlled waste on land without a waste management licence. A preliminary issue was raised by the claimant as to whether, as a matter of law, sewage escaping from pipes maintained by a statutory undertaker was ‘controlled waste’. Following a reference to the European Court, the Divisional Court ruled on 28 July that sewage escaping from pipes maintained by a statutory undertaker was ‘controlled waste’ within the meaning of s 33 of the 1990 Act.

The reasoning of the decision as reported is that there were no ‘precise provisions’ governing the management of waste which escaped unintentionally from the sewerage system. Accordingly, they were not ‘covered by other legislation’ in the sense explained by the European Court of Justice. Escapes were by definition unplanned, and therefore outside the scope of the ordinary management regime. However, that was no reason for them not being subject to the criminal sanctions otherwise thought appropriate for the deposit of controlled waste. There was nothing unfair in that.

R (on the application of Thames Water Ltd) v Bromley Magistrates Court [2008] EWHC 1763(QB)

Link: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2008/1763.html