Criminal environmental law: Defense and advice from specialists is a must

Criminal environmental law is characterized by the interweaving of numerous criminal, fines and administrative regulations. European legal requirements also play an important role in environmental law. Technical developments and new scientific findings, for example on the hazardousness of certain substances or limit values, lead to regular changes and adjustments to environmental regulations. Understanding the interrelationships of the entire regulatory matter is therefore essential for an effective defense.

The legal situation: Not always transparent

Criminal environmental law is an increasingly relevant area of law. In 1980, the legislature placed the natural resources of the environment under the protection of the Criminal Code. Through the 1st Law to Combat Environmental Crime, norms were added to the Criminal Code aimed at protecting the environment. Important criminal offenses under the Criminal Code are water pollution (Section 324 of the Criminal Code), soil pollution (Section 324a of the Criminal Code), air pollution (Section 325 of the Criminal Code), the unauthorized handling of hazardous waste (Section 326 of the Criminal Code) and the unauthorized operation of facilities (Section 327 (2) StGB).

In addition, there are numerous regulatory areas under administrative law that contain criminal and administrative offenses or become relevant in connection with the provisions of the Criminal Code, in particular:

  • Preservation of nature,
  • Soil protection,
  • Water protection,
  • Immission control,
  • Animal welfare,
  • Radiation protection,
  • Protection against improper waste disposal.

Not only intentional, but also negligent violations are punished, such as negligent exceeding of limit values of the Federal Immission Control Act. The barriers to prosecution are therefore low.

Due to the interaction between administrative and criminal proceedings in criminal environmental law, in addition to criminal law expertise, in-depth knowledge of administrative law is necessary for early coordination of the proceedings and a forward-looking defense. For example, the person responsible may be obliged to inform the authority immediately about certain processes in accordance with the requirements of administrative hazard prevention – even before the files are inspected in criminal proceedings. Definitions relevant to criminal law, such as those of “dangerous substances,” are also based on administrative and European law requirements.

In order to be able to optimally advise the person concerned and protect them from further damage, knowledge of the administrative requirements is essential.

There are also overlaps with criminal health and safety law.

Practically very relevant: Unauthorized operation of systems and the “current state of technology and science”

In practice, the “unauthorized operation of systems” according to Section 327 (2) StGB in conjunction with the provisions of the special laws, in particular the Federal Immission Control Act and the Recycling Management Act, is particularly significant.

A violation may mean that permits were not obtained properly or to a sufficient extent or that they have expired (unnoticed). But because negligent behavior can also be punished, the system operators are often completely unexpectedly confronted with allegations.

In criminal environmental law, the requirements of the “current state of technology and science” are often decisive. Those responsible in the company are obliged to proactively align their company accordingly and, if necessary, to increase protection standards, even as technical risk assessments and new scientific findings progress. If an incident occurs, the relevant state of science and technology at the time is decisive.

In addition to our own continuous further training, we ensure optimal defense for you by working closely with specialized attorneys and experts in the field of criminal environmental law.

Violations in the company: Criminal and administrative offense risks

In addition to criminal law consequences, criminal environmental law regularly threatens parallel sanctions from the area of administrative offense law. When defending in criminal proceedings, therefore, the legal offense risks must always be taken into account – especially since substantial fines can be threatened.

The owner of a company has to ensure that the environmental regulations to be observed by the company are implemented. In addition to the careful selection and monitoring of employees, his supervisory duties also include the proper management and organization of the company. If he does not fulfill this obligation to a sufficient extent, he faces a fine of up to 10 million euros (Section 130 OWiG).

Violations of environmental regulations can also result in significant financial disadvantages for the company. If corporate obligations have been violated or the company has been or was intended to be enriched, a fine of up to 10 million euros (§ 30 OWiG) can be imposed on the company.

We provide defense at all levels of the company. Not only managing directors, authorized signatories or operations managers, but also company employees can be affected by allegations. If different company levels are affected, it is usually not expedient to work against one another. We support you in finding a defense strategy that avoids or mitigates the consequences for companies and those affected in the best possible way.

Special feature in criminal environmental law: Liability of public officials

Criminal violations of environmental regulations can occur in more areas than just companies. In particular, officials in environmental authorities are threatened with criminal or administrative penalties in the event of environmental crimes and administrative offenses in the context of approval procedures. Violations can involve collusive interaction with an applicant, but also the failure to withdraw an illegal license. Public officials are often not only exposed to criminal proceedings, but also to consequences under employment law, which must be taken into account from the outset when providing advice on criminal law.

Consequences of confiscation

The section on environmental offenses in the Criminal Code contains a separate provision on confiscation in Section 330c of the Criminal Code. In addition, the confiscation regulations of Section 73 ff. StGB apply.

The very far-reaching confiscation regulations may lead to law enforcement authorities confiscating the company’s assets or even destroying its existence. Under certain circumstances, even the negligent, unauthorized operation of a system can result in the confiscation of gross sales. The defense must therefore also consider the possible consequences of confiscation for the company from the start.

H2W Criminal Law is your expert partner!

With the right defense strategy, success can often be achieved during the preliminary investigation. At the same time, coordination with the environmental authorities involved is essential. The attorneys from H2W Criminal Law have the necessary expertise in criminal environmental law due to their many years of defense and advice in this area of law.