Criminal Law

Environmental criminal law

In recent decades, a massive change in values has taken place with regard to the importance of effective environmental protection. Accordingly, the protection of water, air and soil as well as of flora and fauna has also become increasingly relevant in criminal law.

Some of the central provisions of environmental criminal law were transferred by the legislature from the area of administrative law to the Criminal Code and, over the course of time, have been increasingly tightened both in terms of the elements of the offense and the legal consequences.

Today, environmental criminal law provisions can be found in the 29th section of the Criminal Code on the one hand and in a multitude of legal sources of secondary criminal law on the other hand, which is difficult to survey. The extremely strong link to public administrative law (so-called administrative accessoriness) and the increasing influence of European law contribute to a further increase in the complexity of the matter.

Sections 324-330d in the 29th section of the Criminal Code play the most important role as a component of core criminal law:

  • Pollution of water, soil or ground, §§ 324 to 325 StGB,
  • Causing noise, vibrations and non-ionizing radiation, § 325a StGB,
  • Unauthorized handling of waste, Section 326 StGB,
  • Unauthorized operation of facilities, § 327 StGB,
  • Unauthorized handling of radioactive substances and other dangerous substances and goods, § 328 StGB,
  • Endangering areas in need of protection, § 329 StGB,
  • Serious endangerment by release of poisons, § 330a StGB.

In secondary criminal law, the following provisions are regularly of significance:

  • §§ 27 to 27c Chemicals Act,
  • § 69 Plant Protection Act,
  • §§ 71 and 71a Federal Nature Conservation Act,
  • § 38 Federal Hunting Act,
  • § 17 Animal Protection Act.

Many elements of environmental criminal law already allow the commission of an act without the need for a concrete environmental hazard or a violation of the protected legal interests. In addition, the existence of negligence is often sufficient for criminal liability.

In particular, public officials in environmental authorities, but also board members and managing directors of certain companies are already at risk of liability under environmental criminal law due to their professional activities.

In the event of interaction between public officials and applicants or third parties, the provisions of commercial criminal law relating to the acceptance of benefits (Section 331 of the German Criminal Code) and corruption (Section 332 of the German Criminal Code) regularly come into consideration.

Although companies as such cannot be criminally sanctioned, it is possible under Section 73b of the German Criminal Code (StGB) to skim off profits that have been obtained, for example, by employees in the course of environmental crimes.

In view of the complexity of environmental criminal law, the low threshold for criminal liability and the far-reaching criminal and economic consequences in the event of a violation, it is advisable to seek professional legal advice at an early stage.

We will be happy to assist you if you wish to protect yourself or your company preventively against possible violations of environmental criminal law or if you are already subject to a corresponding criminal charge.