Data source
Date of text
07 Jul 2002
Country
Seat of court
Venice
Original language

Italian

Type of text
National - higher court
Reference number
GUP Venezia Sent. 19 luglio 2002
Court name
GUP Venezia (Judgement of the Preliminary Hearing)
Justice(s)
R. Marchiori
Sources
InforMEA
Keywords
Access to justice, air pollution (stationary sources), hazardous substance, non-governmental organization, standing to sue

On the evening of May 4, 1999 the plant Enichem of Porto Marghera released in the atmosphere some ammonia. The inhabitants of the nearby village of Malcontenta, alarmed by the presence of a smelly substance in the atmosphere, called the Fire Brigade. The owner of the plant held that some of his engineers were responsible for negligence as they did not maintain the system properly.

The huge emission of this polluting substance represented a serious and unrepairable damage to the environment and therefore NGOs and local municipalities started proceedings against the engineers. The defendants, on their side, decided to appeal the request of the plaintiffs because they would not have the power to stand in a criminal court.

The court held that the crime of pollution and serious environmental damage stands. In fact the episode has all the characteristics prescribed by Art. 437 of the Italian Criminal Code, making it reasonable to label this event as an “environmental disaster”. In addition to this, since the owner of the plant had already showed the problems to the engineers, responsible for the damage, the Italian criminal code also considers that notwithstanding the lack of an intentional will of the engineers to cause an environmental damage or to hurt people’s health, there subsists a causal link between the episode and their conducts and therefore this is an aggravating factor in their judgment. For what regards the standing to sue of municipalities in a criminal process, question which was appealed by the defendants, the Criminal court ruled that: a) the right to stand of local and regional administration is provided by art. 20143 of the civil code and 185 of the criminal code as well as art. 18 of law 349/46, having suffered a patrimonial and non-patrimonial damage in consequence of this event. But for NGOs, the court held that they cannot appeal the same article and therefore do not have the right to stand in court as they would have this right only if according to the above mentioned articles and law the local entity would decide to not appear in court and be represented by an elected organization. For all these reasons the Criminal Court of Venezia decided that NGOs have to be excluded from the process the engineers guilty of the crime of pollution and damaging severely the environment and condemned them to the punishment of four months of imprisonment and the payment of all procedural costs.