Disasters and environmental enforcement

Insight in legal aspects

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In the event of a disaster, municipalities, provinces and other parties can find themselves under an enormous amount of pressure. Many decisions have to be made in the acute phase of the disaster. These do not only concern measures that must be taken in order to minimise the consequences of the disaster and prevent social unrest. Consultations must also be held for example with the owner of the installation which has burnt down or from which certain hazardous substances have been released as well as with this party's insurer. It is important to note that every action in the initial phases can also have legal consequences and this is certainly true in the follow-up phase when the question arises of whether the government can recover the costs that have been incurred.

When the decision-makers in a crisis situation are already aware beforehand of the potential legal consequences of the choices to be made, then decisions can be made in a more focused manner. The likelihood of being able to enforce measures successfully or of a successful cost recovery action then becomes greater. This prevents reputational damage and other woes.

Consequences for recovery of costs
In the wake of a disaster, the province, municipality or water authority concerned is often left with an enormous bill. In the initial phase of a disaster, all attention is focused on limiting the consequences of the disaster and preventing social unrest. This is only logical, but sometimes this means that less attention is paid to the legal consequences of choices that have been made at that moment. If the legal framework that applies to enforcement and liability is disregarded, this can later have negative consequences and can for example make the recovery of costs impossible.

Keeping a grip on the process surrounding a disaster
It is definitely worthwhile being well prepared, not only for the possibility of a disaster but also for how this is dealt with in legal terms. This allows municipalities, provinces, water authorities, security regions and the central government to know precisely what they need to pay attention to during a disaster, both in legal and organisational terms as well as with regard to communication.

Due to the fact that handling a disaster (legally and otherwise) can be complex, we run 'lessons learned' courses on a regular basis which deal with enforcement in relation to disasters and we organise meetings with the consultancy firm, SGS Search, a market leader in the area of inspection, control, analysis and certification.

Edward Brans, counsel at Pels Rijcken and specialised in environmental law and liability law: "I recommend including the legal aspects of disasters in disaster recovery planning and other contingency plans. This avoids surprises and consequently, a great deal of legal hassle. It is necessary to prevent governments and authorities from being confronted with unexpected costs due to disasters. These costs are often unnecessary, especially if the legal possibilities that are in place are used correctly. We have extensive experience in this regard."

Disaster App (Calamiteitenapp)
Do you need direct digital support for disasters? Install the Calamiteitenapp on your smartphone or tablet.

Would you like to know more?
The team from the Spatial Planning & Environment Department have already been working closely with municipalities, provinces, water authorities and the central government for many years. They help draft enforcement decisions and assess contracts when a municipality or other authority needs to recruit third parties to contain or reverse the negative effects of a disaster as quickly as possible. They provide advice about who could be subject to enforcement, they impose prejudgment attachment if this is necessary, and they negotiate with insurers in order to have funds released for cleaning up the environmental damage that has occurred.

We would be happy to help you get a better grip on how to deal with disasters. Please do not hesitate to contact Edward Brans or Katrien Winterink.


  • "They communicate in a very effective way and are fast, accurate, concise, accessible and easy to get along with. They can provide a high-end legal solution on complex issues at very short notice.", Chambers Europe 2018
  • "They have the ability to see things from the perspective of the client, in order to provide realistic and practical advice.", Chambers Europe 2018
  • "The 'very effective communicators' are 'always impressive', delivering 'high-end solutions to complex issues at very short notice'.", Legal 500 2018
  • "The team has impressed me many times. It is a close-knit team which is fast, accurate, concise, always accessible and easy to get along with. They are also able to provide high-end legal solutions on complex issues at very short notice.", Chambers Europe 2017
  • "New developments are always on top of their mind and they develop pragmatic legal products which are very useful.", Chambers Europe 2017
  • "It is very customer-focused and has proved to us that it has extensive knowledge. A lot of attention is paid to fostering a good working relationship with the client.", Chambers Europe 2016
  • "It is accessible, it has deep knowledge of public law and it practises law in a way that adds significant value to the client's business.", Chambers Europe 2016 
  • "The team's sector knowledge is 'up to date and thorough'.", Legal 500 2016


Chambers Europe 2018 - Leading Firm   Legal 500 2018


Disasters and environmental enforcement

  • Edward BransCounsel
  • Katrien WinterinkAttorney-at-law