Energy & Enviroment /

Criminal liability of companies for environmental crimes

As a result of the amendment, it has become significantly easier for the authorities to prosecute companies for environmental crimes.

Until now, the penalties imposed in criminal proceedings had to be expected primarily by individuals.

When it was difficult to identify a specific guilty party, it was not possible to punish the company.

Prior to the change, the possibility of holding a collective entity liable for an environmental crime depended on the prior conviction of the individual in question (usually an employee or board member of the company) in a criminal trial. Such a trial often took a very long time and often failed to prove guilt and lead to a conviction, making it impossible to hold the company in question liable.

Now, holding a company liable for an environmental crime, for example, no longer requires such a prior conviction of an individual.

In the case of other offences, the prosecution of a collective entity will still require prior confirmation by a final judgment, of the commission of a criminal act by the relevant person.

The legislator therefore considered that environmental crimes require faster prosecution of collective entities regardless of the responsibility of their perpetrators – e.g. members of company bodies or their employees who committed the crime.

Consequently, the public prosecutor will be able to request the initiation of proceedings against a collective entity regardless of the prosecution of the crime itself, if the proceedings relate to an environmental crime.

Pursuant to the amended provisions, a company found liable for an environmental crime will be subject to a fine from PLN 10,000 to PLN 5,000,000 by the court.

Irrespective of the monetary penalty, the court may also impose prohibitions specified in the law, including, for example, a ban on applying for public contracts and making the verdict public.

If the perpetrator is convicted of an intentional offence against the environment, the court also obligatorily orders a surcharge in the amount of PLN 10,000 to PLN 10 million in favour of the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. When the offence is committed unintentionally, the surcharge is then ruled on an optional basis.


 Given the trend towards tougher penalties for environmental crime and the measures being taken to make prosecution and punishment for such violations more effective, we can expect increased and more thorough checks on the permits held by companies and the way in which they carry out activities that may have an impact on the environment.

As a result of the changes, we also expect to see more proceedings against companies.

It is important to secure the company against irregularities by implementing an internal audit and appropriate procedures.

It is also advisable to check the company’s compliance with current legislation to avoid future potential liability, financial penalties or even the loss of permits needed for the business.

In the event that proceedings are initiated in such cases, it is important to prepare consistent explanations for the investigating authorities.

Our experienced lawyers will help to develop an appropriate line of defence and will look after the interests of the individuals and companies involved, whatever the stage of the proceedings.

Author team leader DKP Legal
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