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R v F. Howe and Son (Engineers) Ltd [1999] 2 Cr App R(S) 37.

Factors Affecting Sentence

 

•  It is impossible to lay down any tariff or say that a fine should bear any specific relationship to turnover or profit. The objective of

   prosecutions for H&S offences in the workplace is to achieve a safe environment for those who work there and for members of the

   public who may be affected. A fine needs to be large enough to bring that message home where the defendant is a company not

   only to those who manage it but also to its shareholders.

•  In assessing the gravity of the breach it is often helpful to look at how far short of the appropriate standard the defendant fell in

   failing to meet the reasonably practicable test;

•  It is often a matter of chance whether death or serious injury results from even a serious breach; generally, where death is a

   consequence, it is an aggravating feature and penalties should reflect public disquiet at unnecessary loss of life;

•  A deliberate breach of H&S legislation with a view to profit seriously aggravates the offence;

It may also be relevant to consider...

  • the degree of risk and the extent of the danger created by the offence;
  • the extent of the breach e.g. whether it was an isolated incident or continued over a period; and
  • importantly, the defendant’s resources and the effect of the fine on its business.

Particular aggravating features will include...

  • failure to heed warnings;
  • deliberately profiting financially from a failure to take the necessary health and safety steps; or
  • specifically running a risk to save money.

•  Particular mitigating features will include...

  • prompt admission of responsibility and a timely plea of guilt;
  • steps to remedy deficiencies after they are drawn to the defendant’s attention;
  • a good safety record.

 

Comment:

Regarding the potential of a large fine on a business, the judge at first instance said that ‘there may be cases where the offences are so serious that the defendant ought not to be in business’; a view that that remains. In addition, as regards the application of Howe's principles and cases where chance alone prevented a far worse outcome, we need to be aware of...Read More