Criminal Law - Health & Safety Sanctions

Criminal Law - Sanctions


The employer may be prosecuted in Court for an offence he has committed. Where the case is decided at Crown Court, the employer can face an unlimited fine. Where the case is decided at Magistrates Court, the employer can be fined up to the maximum that Magistrates are allowed to impose for that offence. The maximum is £20,000 for some offences and £5,000 for others. Where the Magistrates feel that a higher fine than they can impose is appropriate they can refer the case to the Crown Court.

An individual (such as a director, manager, employee, professional adviser, etc) may also be prosecuted at either Crown Court or Magistrates Court. Where the case is decided at Crown Court, the individual can face an unlimited fine, a prison sentence of up to two years or both. Not all offences can attract a prison sentence. If the case is decided by Magistrates, the individual can be fined, sent to prison or both, depending on the offence. Magistrates cannot exceed their powers (a fine of £20,000 and/or six months' imprisonment, or a fine of £5,000, depending on the offence). For offences where Magistrates have no powers of imprisonment but the Crown Court does, the case will generally be prosecuted in the higher Court. Magistrates can refer a case to the Crown Court where they feel that a higher fine than they can impose is appropriate in a case brought to them. In serious cases where someone has been killed, police investigations might show that manslaughter charges should be brought against an individual.

On convicting an employer or an individual, a Court can award the prosecution costs against the accused.

The employer or individual may, instead of being prosecuted, be treated more leniently by the health and safety enforcement authority. HSE inspectors or environmental health officers may choose to issue either an Improvement Notice or a Prohibition Notice. An Improvement Notice requires the employer or individual to redress a health and safety problem, generally within a time limit set out in the notice. A Prohibition Notice requires an employer or individual to cease a hazardous activity or otherwise remove a danger immediately or by a certain time.

The employer or individual who does not comply with the terms of any of these Notices commits a serious criminal offence, and one which can attract a prison sentence if:

  • the breach of a Notice served on an employer was due to the conduct of any director, senior manager or other individual; and/or
  • the individual breached a Notice served on him or her.
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