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  • VIEWPOINT OF A PARTNER

    -Philippe Lemaire \ Court of appeals in Amiens
    "I have been the Prosecutor general at the Court of appeals in Amiens since the end of 2011, in a region, Picardie, where environmental issues weigh heavily, particularly concerning water..."

Closer ties with the State prosecutors

In France, approximately 160 high courts handle the more serious legal proceedings. The environment represents about 2% of cases, i.e. it is not a central concern. However, environmental issues are gaining in importance, notably since the Grenelle environmental laws, and magistrates think that trend will continue in the future.

In 2012, about 60% of prosecutors’ offices implemented agreements signed with the State services in charge of environmental police work. The multi-year agreements list the essential issues and objectives for water and environmental policy. The issues are presented in more detail in the annual inspection programmes. The programmes also address practical aspects of the work by the specialised police forces and the corresponding legal proceedings, i.e. simple reminders, outof- court settlements, mediation or criminal proceedings. The new regulation issued in January 2012 on the reorganisation of the environmental police services should result in improvements. For example, the inventory of legal proceedings is an important means to assess the effectiveness of the work. Efforts are also underway to improve management and measure the results of the inspections. In each prosecutor’s office, magistrates are designated as «environmental officers» and serve as the primary contact persons for Onema personnel. Efforts to raise the awareness of magistrates will be pursued, similar to the public-action conference on the water police organised in September 2012 by the Prosecutor general at the Court of appeals in Amiens for the seven prosecutors’ offices in the Picardie region. Magistrates with better information on the issues will be in a position to select the cases justifying further action and the number of cases concerning environmental damage should increase.

Legal action for improvements on the Langeac dam

The Allier river is a remarkable ecological site, with salmon standing out as its most emblematic species. Four hydroelectric dams on the upstream section heavily impact the environment. Following the official announcement at the end of 2011 that the Poutès dam would be removed, the State and all the competent agencies contacted the town of Langeac to insist that it significantly modify its hydroelectric station located just a few kilometres downstream of Poutès. Onema personnel from the local office had since 2009 regularly reported on malfunctions at the station. On the basis of technical recommendations by the Ecohydraulic centre in Toulouse and the Onema Massif Central regional office, the departmental territorial agency (DDT43) reiterated to the town council its obligations concerning ecological continuity (minimum discharges and fish passes).

Following a last warning in January 2012, an inspection, scheduled as part of the 2012 inspection programme, was carried out on 8 March and resulted in a citation by Onema personnel against the town. The agreement signed in 2008 between the prosecutor’s office in Puy-en-Velay, the State and Onema illustrates the synergy achieved. It recommends an out-of-court settlement where possible, as the post-inspection strategy. This type of settlement is regularly preferred to legal proceedings because it is a means to halt the environmental offence rapidly, avoid its recurrence and repair the damage. The Auvergne environmental agency drafted the settlement, in conjunction with the basin agency and the DDT, with Onema providing technical support. This system has demonstrated its effectiveness in a majority of cases such as the Langeac hydroelectric station which, in addition to the necessary environmental aspects, was largely renovated. The work was carried out from September to November 2012.

Quicker sentencing following the capture of glass-eel poachers

The European eel is in critical danger of extinction. The European regulation targeting recovery of the eel stock requires that each Member State set up a long-term eelmanagement plan. The French plan approved in 2010 includes measures to facilitate the free movement of the species, reduce and strictly control legal fishing, and take action against poaching and illegal sales.

To fight more effectively against poachers of glass eels, who are often people difficult to find and prosecute, the prosecutor’s office in Nantes set up several years ago a system to reduce the time interval between the capture of poachers and sentencing. Thanks to this system, the poachers caught in 2012 during an operation organised by several services (Onema, gendarmerie, police, ONCFS) immediately received a court date that had been reserved in advance by the prosecutor’s office. During the trial held just three months later, the court imposed fines ranging from 500 euros to 6 000 euros for repeat offenders. Previously, trials commonly took place two to three years after the offence was committed. This police work has reduced poaching and saved large numbers of glass eels. Not only are the confiscated glass eels put back into the water, but the presence of the units in the field on nights when glass eels are most likely to be caught significantly limits poaching. Whenever possible, operations are combined with hydropeaking events to enable the glass eels, if they are blocked, to overcome the obstacle, colonise upstream sections and thus escape the poachers.

Contact : patrick.lapoirie@onema.fr