Meeting brought senior figures in environmental crime to The Hague
On 27 and 28 November 2013, Eurojust and the European Network of Prosecutors for the Environment (ENPE) co-hosted a meeting entitled Towards an enhanced coordination of environmental crime prosecutions across the EU: The role of Eurojust in The Hague.
The meeting was opened by the President of Eurojust, Michèle Coninsx, and President of the ENPE and Director of Resources and Legal Services in the UK Environment Agency, Jonathan Robinson.
Ms Coninsx noted that the meeting was an historic event, bringing together for the first time prosecutors specialising in environmental crime from Eurojust and the ENPE as well as representatives from the European Union Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL), Interpol and Europol. Ms Coninsx commented that, "Environmental crime is important to the whole of society and affects everyone and everything, and the question is how to improve best practice and fight organised crime groups involved in environmental crime more effectively. The significance of this question is because, despite the fact that environmental crime is on the increase, we don't see it reflected in the level of prosecutions, nor in the level of successful prosecutions. We often don't know how to contact one another, which shows the importance of this unique meeting and just how essential the work of Eurojust is. We are engaged at Eurojust in continuing to bring together experts and spread best practice and experience, and this meeting shows we are not alone. Together we can find ways to work more effectively."
Mr Robinson spoke of the "impressive and substantial body of law in the European Union to protect the environment," but "the environment can only be protected if that law is applied and ultimately enforced. We know that the enforcement of environmental law in the European Union is uneven and partial and that environmental crime is on the increase. Environmental prosecutors have, until now, been working in isolation. The ENPE was established to partially fill the vacuum, not to duplicate the work of Eurojust, but to share knowledge and best practice among environmental prosecutors and to enable that knowledge and experience of prosecutors of how the law is enforced to inform a wider community. This meeting will contribute to both of these aims."
The first day addressed several increasingly important issues, including the trans-frontier shipment of waste; the links between environmental crime and organised crime; the implementation of Directive 2008/99/EC on the protection of the environment through criminal law; the Habitat and Birds Directive; and trafficking in endangered species. Three workshops were held on the second day to explore the previous day's issues in greater depth.
The meeting attracted a number of high-level speakers. Ms Anne Brosnan, member of the Presidency of the ENPE and Chief Prosecutor in the UK Environment Agency, stated, "Environmental catastrophes occur despite the best legislation. We need to equip national authorities with the tools and expertise to prevent these catastrophes and to be in a position to respond when they occur." Mr Rob de Rijck, a Senior Public Prosecutor in the Netherlands and involved in the IMPEL network, pointed out that there "are clear examples of what can be achieved when we cooperate, but these examples are too few."
Professor Richard Macrory, the keynote speaker, said “We now need to think how we can more effectively coordinate criminal and administrative sanctions. There should be a number of principles that should underline any system of sanctions. A core principle is that a sanction should be designed to change the behaviour of the offender - sometimes this needs a criminal punishment, sometimes not. Second, an effective sanctioning system will ensure no financial gains are made by non-compliance. Sometimes this can be achieved by a criminal fine. But again there may be other more imaginative ways of ensuring this. An effective sanctioning system has to be very responsive to a broad range of offendors, and the bodies responsible for enforcement, whether criminal or administrative, need to create and publish an integrated enforcement policy. Such a policy will indicate the range of sanctions available and the circumstances when they are most likely to be applied - this gives important signals to the businesses concerned, and increased public confidence in the overall system."
Mr Leif Görts, National Member for Sweden and chair of the meeting, commented: "This meeting was broad and ambitious and the first of its kind. We have fine examples of Conventions and a strong body of European Union law that gives us common ground. But there is a question regarding what constitutes serious infringement and the penalties to be applied. The ultimate aim is to improve and secure compliance with the law; to achieve it, criminalisation is only one method of doing so, sanctions is another. We must be able to discern between the non-compliance of businesses doing wrong from time to time and of individuals who have no intention of complying and are only looking for ways to earn unlawful profits. Given this, we must look at how Member States implement environmental law and address the question of forum shopping. We all agree on the threats, and we also agree on the obvious need to share experience and knowledge; this is exactly why Eurojust bringing together senior environmental prosecutors is so important and highly relevant."
European Network of Prosecutors for the Environment (ENPE)
The co-organiser of the recent Strategic Meeting on Environmental Crime was the ENPE. The ENPE is a non-profit association based on an informal agreement between prosecutors who deal with cases of environmental crime from several Member States; Belgium, Finland, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.
The objective of the network is to assist practitioners to connect, share experiences and data on environmental crime and to look at crucial issues linked to the environment and human health. It supports the work of the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, INTERPOL, Europol, UNEP and INECE.