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INTERVIEW - NEWSLETTER # 14 - January 2012

Interview of Jean-Philippe Rivaud,
deputy prosecutor general at the Prosecutor general's office, Court of appeals in Amiens, in charge of environmental and public-health issues

Since 2007, you have made active efforts in the Picardie region to raise the awareness of prosecutors concerning environmental law and its effective enforcement.

In each prosecutor's office, an "environmental" officer in charge of this specialised sector has been appointed. Each year, we organise a regional conference for public action on an environmental topic. In 2012, the meeting was devoted to the protection of aquatic environments. The idea is to bring together the prosecutors from the seven offices with Onema and the State services (regional environmental agency, departmental territorial agencies) in charge of the water police, in order to better understand the issues at hand through specific examples from the region, but also the national and global issues concerning the protection of water resources. These meetings serve to create closer ties between the prosecutors' offices and the members of the administrative police. We also set up special sessions at the Court of appeals for environmental cases to ensure that decisions are rendered within three months following the judgements of the lower courts. These sessions mobilise the efforts of the judicial personnel and facilitate the participation of the environmental police agents who provide technical clarifications and information on how the damage can be repaired. Finally, we have established a solid partnership with the regional environmental agency and with the Onema regional office.

What are the results of this policy?

We note a real increase in the awareness of the prosecutors' offices in the Picardie region, their knowledge of environmental protection has improved. Over the past year, the number of judgements in new cases of environmental degradation has increased significantly. Legal efforts have increased, heavier sentences have been handed down and the decisions are published. Momentum has been created, prosecutors have polished their techniques (though a great deal remains to be done), judges are more receptive and administrative services have encouraged police forces to launch penal procedures, which has significantly motivated the people who report the offences.

Enforcement of environmental penal law remains difficult.

The situation varies greatly from one region to another, but on the whole, few regions have set up organised and coordinated policies. Environmental issues are not central concerns for judges and prosecutors, contrary to physical violence which represents a large number of cases, or driving offences. In addition, they lack any basic training on environmental offences. Their ignorance of the main legal principles in environmental law is due to the fact that the legal texts are scattered among some 15 legal codes and to the exceptional technicalities involved. As a result, work on a water-pollution case is much more complex than, for instance, a case of child abuse.

What is required to make further progress?

Given the complexity and technicalities of water law, it is essential that Onema personnel provide more contextual information on the offence, highlight the links with regional environmental issues and clearly present the consequences when preparing their reports for legal proceedings. More generally, it is essential that the concept of ecological damage be included in the Civil code and that a chapter on environmental offences and crimes be included in the Penal code. And why not establish special prosecutors like in Spain and Sweden, or generalise special court sessions dedicated to environmental cases? Finally, it is important that we encourage cooperation between judges and prosecutors on the European level to handle international environmental cases. The European network of prosecutors for the environment was recently launched. It is chaired by a British colleague and I am a founding member.

 

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