Health and safety prosecutions can cripple any organisation, both from a financial and reputational standpoint. As a health and safety lawyer, I provide the expert legal advice needed to make sure that if you and/or your business is facing criminal prosecution, your best interests are fully protected. Furthermore, I can advise and represent you from the time of a health and safety incident, ensuring that evidence required for a possible defence is swiftly identified and collected.
Most business owners and in-house counsel are unfamiliar with what is required to successfully defend a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or a local authority. Given that investors and prospective joint venture partners often request assurances regarding health and safety prosecutions before signing up to a deal, and with questions on safety convictions now standard on tender documents, it is crucial to employ expert legal advice to minimise the fallout of an incident.
As a direct access barrister, I have years of experience in criminal defence trials and will take the worry and stress of the event off your shoulders so you can concentrate on your business.
Can an individual be prosecuted by the HSE?
A decade ago, it was rare for individuals to be prosecuted for health and safety breaches. But now, investigating officers routinely examine the role of employers and employees in an incident.
The enforcement body’s policy on prosecuting individuals’ states:
“enforcing authorities should identify and prosecute or recommend prosecution of individuals if they consider that a prosecution is warranted. In particular, they should consider the management chain and the role played by individual directors and managers, and should take action against them where the inspection or investigation reveals that the offence was committed with their consent or connivance or to have been attributable to neglect on their part and where it would be appropriate to do so in accordance with this policy. Where appropriate, enforcing authorities should seek disqualification of directors under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.” Individuals can face prison sentences of up to six months if convicted in a Magistrates’ Court and up to two years if convicted in the Crown Court. Plus, you will carry the stigma of a criminal record for the rest of your life.
It is imperative that you instruct a health and safety lawyer as soon as an incident occurs as prosecutions are often avoided thanks to robust strategies at the investigation stage.
What is the standard of proof in a health and safety offence case?
To secure a conviction, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged offence has been committed. This is higher than the civil standard of proof which is ‘on the balance of probability’.
What happens during a health and safety prosecution?
In England and Wales, all criminal prosecutions begin in the Magistrates’ Court. Depending on the type of offence, the trial will continue in the Magistrates’ Court or be sent on to the Crown Court.
Most health and safety offences are ‘either way’ offences, meaning they can be heard in the Magistrate’s Court or the Crown Court. If you or your organisation choose to plead not guilty, you have the right to determine the Court in which your case will be heard.
Given the sentencing powers of the Magistrates’ Court are less than that of the Crown Court, often the first battle is preventing the case from being transferred. If the Prosecution believes that a sufficiently strong sentence to punish the Defendant cannot be achieved if the case remains in the Magistrates’ Court, they will push hard to have the matter transferred. Following careful collation and evaluating of evidence gathered by myself and the HSE investigating officer, I have successfully prevented the transfer of several health and safety cases to the Crown Court.