Informa Markets

Author Bio ▼

Safety and Health Practitioner (SHP) is first for independent health and safety news.
October 13, 2008

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

Tougher health and safety penalties to be enshrined in law

The Health and Safety (Offences) Act, which increases the penalties for health and safety crimes, will come into law in January next year after the Bill gained Royal Assent yesterday.

Introduced by Labour MP Keith Hill (pictured), the Bill amends Section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work etc., Act 1974. It raises the maximum fine that may be imposed by the lower courts from £5000 to £20,000 for most health and safety offences, and makes imprisonment an option for more offences in both lower and higher courts.

Welcoming the Bill, Health and safety minister, Lord McKenzie of Luton, said: “It is generally accepted that the level of fines for some health and safety offences is too low. These changes will ensure that sentences can now be more easily set at a level to deter businesses that do not take their health and safety-management responsibilities seriously, and further encourage employers and others to comply with the law.

“Furthermore, by extending the £20,000 maximum fine to the lower courts and making imprisonment an option, more cases will be resolved in the lower courts and justice will be faster, less costly, and more efficient.”

On the issue of jail sentences, the CBI has argued, among other issues, that the wider availability of imprisonment will raise the stakes and encourage more challenges to prosecution.

But Lord McKenzie rebuffed the suggestion during the Bill’s third-reading debate in the House of Lords on 10 October. “Imprisonment is already widely available under regulatory legislation”, argued the minister. “These arrangements have worked well and without objection for many years. I have no reason to believe that imprisonment would be used more often for health and safety offences than for those other regulatory offences.

He added that he would be writing to the Sentencing Guidelines Council to encourage it to update its guidelines “as a matter of urgency”. He also confirmed that health and safety regulators would not be changing their prosecution policy on individuals as a result of the Bill.

Fears have also been expressed that the Bill could undermine section 40 of the HSWA, which imposes a reverse burden of proof on defendants. Following a prosecution by the HSE in 2002, the Court of Appeal rejected defendant David Janway Davies’ argument that s40 breached the European Convention of Human Rights because it made inroads into the presumption of innocence. According to Housemans’ solicitor, Mike Appleby, one of the main reasons for the Court of Appeal’s decision was that the offence did not carry a custodial sentence.

Despite such concerns, Lord McKenzie said the Government considered the Bill’s proposals to be “reasonable and proportionate, and that s40 continues to represent a fair balance between the rights of the individual to a fair trial, and the protection of life and limb from dangerous work practices”.

For a detailed analysis of the issues surrounding s40, see Mike Appleby’s article by clicking on the link below.

Related Topics

Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Billy Smith
Billy Smith
3 years ago

Fantastic Artical, Really helpfull. Thanks