Liability of the State Treasury for damage caused by bison, wolves, lynxes and bears K 36/13
The challenged provisions of the Nature Protection Act are inconsistent with the Constitution.
At the hearing on 21 July 2014 at 1 p.m., the Constitutional Tribunal considered an application, submitted by the Polish Ombudsman, with regard to the liability of the State Treasury for damage caused by bison, wolves, lynxes and bears.
The Constitutional Tribunal adjudicated that:
- Article 126(1)(1) of the Nature Protection Act of 16 April 2004 in the part which included the wording “in crops, agricultural produce or in forests”,
- Article 126(1)(2) and Article 126(1)(3) of the above Act in the part which included the wording “in the number of livestock”,
- Article 126(1)(4) of the above Act in the part which included the wording “in apiaries, in the number of livestock as well as in agricultural crops”,
- Article 126(4) of the above Act, insofar as it limits the group of persons that may work together with a regional director of environmental protection, and within the borders of a national park – with a director of that park, as regards the ways of securing the area against damage caused by animals referred to in paragraph 1, to the owners or users of agricultural holdings and forests, and insofar as it restricts which property is subject to protection
– were inconsistent with Article 32(1) and Article 64(2) of the Constitution.
The Constitutional Tribunal stated that the challenged provisions infringed constitutional principles expressed in Article 32(1) and Article 64(2) of the Constitution, i.e. the principle of equality before the law as well as the equal protection of ownership. Indeed, Article 126(1)(1) - Article 126(1)(4) of the Nature Protection Act, in its hitherto binding version, correlated the liability of the State Treasury with damage done to particular property, i.e. to the number of livestock and the certain categories of immovable properties indicated by statute. That had resulted in differentiation introduced with regard to the owners of the kinds of property which were privileged by statute and the owners of other property that was subject to damage.
The principle of equality was also infringed by Article 126(4) of the Nature Protection Act, as the said provision did not take account of all persons that might incur loss due to the activity of wild animals classified as protected species and that might be potentially interested in cooperation within the scope of protection against any damage. Both distinctions were not justified by values that were protected constitutionally, but – on the contrary – infringed the constitutional requirement of protection of property rights.
As a side remark, it should be mentioned that, in the Sejm, legislative work is being carried out on amendments to the Nature Protection Act. In the new wording of Article 126(1) of the said Act, the liability of the State Treasury does not depend on the kind of property which was damaged.
However, the Tribunal was against the complete automatic recovery of damages, drawing attention to the fact that compensatory actions of the State Treasury should be linked with the assessment of preventive actions undertaken by the owners and holders of property.
The hearing was presided over by Judge Wojciech Hermeliński, and the Judge Rapporteur was Judge Mirosław Granat.