In France, environmental protection has gained a constitutional status following the adoption of the Environmental Charter in 2005. The relevance of the environment also results from the Criminal Code, which in Article 410-1 lists “the balance of natural resources and environment” among the “fundamental interests of the Nation”. Although the environment is invested with a superior social interest, the French Criminal Code does not foresee any provision expressly punishing environmental damage or pollution.
The main source of French environmental law is the Environmental Code, which introduces rules applicable to the different environmental components and contains provisions punishing the infringement of the above mentioned rules with criminal sanctions. With the exception of few cases directly punishing environmental pollution, these provisions are mostly dependent on the administrative rules and consist in failing to comply with a court ruling or, more often, in failing to comply with an administrative decision or an administrative regulation. All the environmental offences provided for by the French legislation can be applied to the natural persons as well as to the legal ones.
The Environmental Code has been modified by the Ordinance No. 34 of 11 January 2012. The Ordinance has established a set of common provisions on criminal sanctions and police controls applicable to all the offences provided for by the Environmental Code. The Ordinance has significantly modified the system of the “polices de l’environnement” in order to ensure greater consistency and effectiveness of the juridical framework relevant for the investigation and detection of environmental violations.
In France administrative sanctions also play a key role in the field of environmental protection, with a recent legislative activism which has led to the multiplication of administrative sanctions concerning the protection of the environment and human health.