Lord Chancellor adds weight to punishments for health and safety offences
The Government has signalled its intention to increase the penalties for
health and safety offences, by extending the option of imprisonment to a wider
range of breaches.
The announcement by Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine in December that the
Government intends to extend the £20,000 maximum statutory fine for most offences
"when parliamentary time allows" comes in response to a campaign by
the TUC and the British Safety Council. Their joint report, published last
month, revealed average fines for breaches of health and safety law amounted to
£5,038 in 1998/99.
"In future the possibility of imprisonment will need to be considered
more frequently by the courts," Lord Irvine said to a TUC-organised
gathering of employers, health and safety experts, trade union representatives
The move follows criticism by the Court of Appeal that the level of
penalties for serious health and safety offences was generally too low and
"not an appropriate yardstick" in sentencing.
But Lord Irvine rejected the notion that fines were always ineffectual.
"A substantial fine which brings home the message that the law and
criminal prosecutions are intended to secure a safe environment for workers is
not simply to impose a debt but a serious punishment."
He added that the Government is taking action to improve the enforcement of
fines ordered by the criminal court through wider powers for magistrates to
execute warrants and research into enforcement strategies.
TUC policy adviser Owen Tudor said Lord Irvine’s speech was the strongest
message yet that the Government is taking the issue seriously.
"We are pleased that the Government is resolute on this matter. We had
been told it was waiting for someone to raise it as a private members’