Destruction of the environment – criminal liability

In recent years, the topic of responsibility for actions resulting in the destruction of the environment has become more discussed. Environmental issues are regulated by, inter alia, criminal law provisions. Environmental offences are stated by Chapter XXII of the Penal Code. In recent years, significant changes have been made to environmental offences, making the penalties for them more severe.

Environmental crime

One of the offences is regulated by Article 181 of the Penal Code and concerns causing damage to nature. This provision basically criminalises three behaviours, namely:

  • causing damage to the plant or animal world on a large scale (imprisonment from 6 months to 8 years);
  • destroying or damaging, contrary to the provisions in force in a protected area, plants, animals, fungi or their habitats, or natural habitats, and in so doing causing substantial damage (fine, penalty of restriction of liberty or imprisonment from 3 months to 5 years);
  • Destroying or damaging plants, animals, fungi under species protection or their habitats, regardless of the place of the act, and in so doing causing substantial damage (fine, penalty of restriction of liberty or imprisonment from 3 months to 5 years).

The offences described above can be committed both intentionally and unintentionally. In short, intentionality consists in the fact that the offender intends to commit an act and wants to commit it. Another form of intentionality is foreseeing the possibility of committing a crime and agreeing to it. Unintentionality, on the other hand, consists in the fact that the perpetrator does not intend to commit the act but commits it anyway as a result of a failure to take the care required under the circumstances.

Criminal charges for destruction of the environment

In order to attribute responsibility to someone for the offences described above, law enforcement authorities must investigate whether:

  • the environment has been destroyed or damaged;
  • the damage caused is of considerable magnitude or the damage caused is significant;
  • the damage occurred in a protected area;
  • the perpetrator acted intentionally or unintentionally.

The elements of the described offences include the occurrence of damage of “significant size” or causing “substantial damage”. Both of these concepts should be understood as causing irreversible damage that has affected the environment. The perpetrator’s behaviour, on the other hand, should be characterised by a nuisance to the entire biosphere.

When carrying out certain investments, there may sometimes occure a risk of disturbing the environment. For this reason, it is necessary to remember to obtain the relevant permits from public administration bodies. The public administration authority, before issuing a specific decision, will be obliged to examine the impact of the intended investment on the environment. It is also worthwhile to additionally “take care” to obtain private expert opinions. The implementation of the investment should always proceed in accordance with the indications of administrative decisions. It should also comply with expert advice, so as not to expose oneself to criminal liability.


Full article is available in Polish here.

Zobacz także:

Protection of the environment through criminal law in EU


Collective entities are to be prosecuted for environmental offences