This judgment sets out the principles to be used when sentencing health and safety cases.
Nature of Case
This case is about the principles that judges should consider when sentencing in serious health and safety cases.
Two companies were charged with breaches of health and safety law following the deaths of two employees on a barge moored at a sea farm operated by one of the companies. The second company was doing engineering work on the barge.
The employees had suffocated after entering a chamber below the deck, due to very low oxygen levels. A further two workers were also severely injured.
Both companies pled guilty to breaches of health and safety law and were fined £600,000 (discounted from £900,000) and £40,000 (discounted from £60,000) respectively.
The companies appealed against the fines on the basis that they were too high.
The appeal judges looked at whether the level of fine in this case was too high. They also looked at whether the sentencing judge had thought about all the relevant factors in the case.
The judges in this case decided that –
- The sentencing judge had not explained fully how he had applied the principles of sentencing in health and safety cases (see the case of HM Advocate v Munro & Sons Ltd. so it was open to the appeal court to look at the fines.
- In respect of the first company, the breach of health and safety was serious and the mitigating factors in the case did not make it less so, but taking those mitigating factors into account, an appropriate starting figure was £500,000. That amount would reflect the gravity of the situation. That amount was then reduced by one third to £333,335 to reflect that there had been an early plea of guilty.
- The second company had pled guilty to a less serious charge, and although the fine given by the sentencing judge was unlikely to put them out of business, the risk of the fine leading to redundancies at the company was a relevant factor to consider, along with other mitigating factors. As a result, £30,000 was the starting point. This was reduced by 25% to £20,000 to reflect the early guilty plea.
- The appeal judges observed that the principles set out in the Munro case should be followed.
- It is appropriate for Scottish courts to look at the sentencing guidelines in England and Wales about corporate manslaughter and health and safety offences causing death.
- Aggravating factors included (1) more than one death, (2) failure to heed warnings or advice, (3) cost cutting at the expense of health and safety, (4) deliberate failure to obtain or obey relevant licences, and (5) injury to vulnerable people.
- Mitigating factors included (1) quickly admitting responsibility and a timely guilty plea, (2) steps taken to sort out the problem, (3) helping with the investigation, and (4) a good safety record.
- Only the first aggravating factor applied to the first company in this case, and none applied to the second company. All the mitigating factors applied to each company.
Scottish Sea Farms Ltd v HM Advocate