FRENCH CONSEIL CONSTITUTIONNEL RULES ON THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF PLEA BARGAINING UNDER THE ENVIRONMENTAL CODE ("TRANSACTION PÉNALE EN MATIÈRE D'ENVIRONNEMENT")

On 26 September 2014, the French Conseil constitutionnel ruled that Article L173-12 of the Environmental Code, which provides for plea bargaining under certain circumstances, complies with the French Constitution. The ruling was issued in response to a priority question of constitutionality (question prioritaire de constitutionnalité) submitted by a French environmental federation.

Article L173-12 permits the French authorities to make settlement offers to legal or natural persons in respect of certain criminal offences under the French Environmental Code (such as pollution stemming from exploration or exploitation activities relating to the continental shelf). Such offers may only be made if criminal proceedings have not been launched.

The nature of the offer depends upon the circumstances and gravity of the offence, as well as the nature and resources of the wrongdoer. It must specify: 

  • The settlement fine payable by the wrongdoer (which cannot exceed 1/3 of the maximum fine applicable to the offence);
  • The obligations (if any) to be imposed on the wrongdoer in order to put an end to the offence, prevent its repetition, repair the damage caused or rehabilitate the affected area; and
  • The timeframe for payment and (if applicable) compliance with the stated conditions.

Once agreed between the authorities and the wrongdoer, the settlement must be approved by the Public Prosecutor.  If the settlement is then fully performed, the public right of prosecution is extinguished ("L'action publique est éteinte").