Section 85 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 which came into force on 12 March 2015 has increased the level of fines that can be imposed by a Magistrates Court.
Magistrates can now impose an unlimited penalty; the maximum penalty for most health and safety offences was previously limited to £20,000.
The increase will only apply in respect of offences committed after 12 March 2015, so it will take some time before such cases come to court and we see any increase in the level of fine.
One of the consequences of the change could be that the enforcing authorities will take fewer less serious cases to the Crown Court. They are likely to consider that the magistrates’ powers of sentencing are now appropriate to deal with this type of case. Moreover these cases would be dealt with quicker than before and for less cost. Prosecutions for the most serious offences (involving for example fatalities) would continue to be heard in the Crown Court.
The Courts Service has also amended the Criminal Practice Direction to require a District Judge to be allocated to deal with certain types of case in which, despite the unlimited fine being available, the Magistrates Court would normally consider allocation to the Crown Court. These include:
- Cases involving death or significant, life changing injury or a high risk of death or significant, life changing injury;
- Cases where the defendant is a corporation with a turnover in excess of £10 million but does not exceed £250 million, and has acted in a deliberate, reckless or negligent manner;
- Cases where the defendant corporation has a turnover in excess of £250 million;
- Cases where the court will be expected to analyse complex company accounts;
- High profile cases or cases of an exceptionally sensitive nature.
Peninsula’s BusinessSafe clients who have adopted and adhere to their Safety Management Systems and guidance should have nothing to fear from these changes. Implementation of an effective safety management system will minimise the risk of accidents and injuries and avoid expensive court cases.
If you need clarification on this issue then contact the BusinessSafe Advice Service on 0844 892 2785.