In the last few years, environmental criminal law has become increasingly important in our legal system as a result of the greater focus legislators have placed on environmental assets. Indeed, numerous regulations have been introduced to prevent and inhibit the occurrence of environmental damages defined as “any significant and measurable deterioration, either direct or indirect, of a natural resource or its utility” (see art. 300 LD no. 152/2006 and subsequent amendments and additions).
The introduction of specific environmental crimes in our legal system has evolved over the years. In the past, only misdemeanours or wrongful acts existed, which are now part of the Consolidation Act on Environmental Protection (LD no. 152/2006). However, case law has often deemed these provisions insufficient to protect more extensive phenomena of environmental damage, thus resorting instead to crimes aimed at protecting non-environmental assets, such as crimes against public safety. Over the years, frequent objections have been raised to environmental disasters based on the regulation governing ‘atypical disasters’ (art. 434 of the penal code), which was set out to include sudden and catastrophic events such as collapsing buildings or major railway accidents.
After legislative decree no. 121/2011 was passed, which allowed even legal entities to be held accountable for environmental crimes applicable at the time, the most significant reform has been law no. 68/2015, which has contributed to increased criminal-law protection by adding the new title VI/a as regards crimes against the environment by introducing new and specific criminal offences, commonly known in Italian as “ecoreati” (environmental crimes).
Through this textual amendment, lawmakers have aimed to provide environmental assets with direct legal protection by introducing new legal concepts and entities aimed at punishing cases of environmental pollution (art. 452-bis of the penal code) and environmental disaster (art. 452-quater of the penal code) due to wilful misconduct or negligence, in addition to rewriting the criminal law provision concerning allegations of failure to carry out environmental remediation (now art. 452-terdecies of the penal code). Penalties for these instances of wrongful conduct include very harsh legal provisions (e.g., the maximum penalty for environmental disaster is a fifteen-year prison sentence), and in many cases, these also include the requisition of any assets or profits derived from the crime committed.
The current structure of environmental criminal law imposes the need to deal with complex and clearly multidisciplinary scenarios that may be harbingers of potentially serious risks.
In the legal practice, it is frequent to bring charges of environmental criminal offences even in the corporate realm. These often include prominent corporate figures or even the very legal entity itself, since certain criminal offences may lead to the administrative liability of entities.
Baccaredda Boy Law Firm has many years’ experience in matters relating to environmental criminal law. For years the firm has offered its legal counsel for the criminal defence of top management in many high-profile cases, including the Petrolchimico-Porto Marghera trial, whose records have been made public on the www.petrolchimico.it site with the permission of both the Court of Venice and the Court of Appeal of Venice. Baccaredda Boy Law Firm has also taken on important defensive roles in the trials over the Bussi sul Tirino, Spinetta Marengo and Crotone industrial plants in the disputes arising from environmental pollution and groundwater contamination. The Firm is currently involved in the Taranto steel plant trial. In addition, Baccaredda Boy Law Firm offers its legal counsel in criminal matters arising from the management of renewable energy facilities such as wind farms, hydroelectric power plants and waste-to-energy plants.
Baccaredda Boy Law Firm often has to tackle and look into extraordinarily complex problems, whether it be the difficulty in laying bare the alleged causes of contamination, the need to analyse the development of regulations concerning the protection of environmental matrices, acquire a deeper knowledge of dangerous substances and the cleaning-up of polluted sites, or even establishing the benchmark for the so-called ‘model agent’ within large enterprises. Furthermore, Baccaredda Boy Law Firm’s team of lawyers specialized in environmental crimes can offer their expertise to corporate clients to help them to avoid incurring criminal liability in matters relating to potential environmental crime scenarios. Likewise, the Firm carries out in-depth analyses of environmental crimes through conferences, study groups and publications. In this regard, please refer to the relevant section.