Time to look at the UK's sentencing guidelines?
Now that the Stumpmaster decision has clarified the question of sentencing penalty bands under the HSW Act, is it now time for NZ to take a look at the UK's
health & safety sentencing guidelines
, issued in 2016?
Sydney lawyer Alena Titterton, a keynote speaker at Safeguard's LegalSafe conference series in October, said in her presentation that Australian politicians would do better to look at the UK's sentencing guidelines rather than disappear down the rabbit hole of industrial manslaughter (my phrase, not hers).
The key element of the UK's guidelines is that sentencing bands are based on the defendant company's annual turnover. Since their adoption the effect on H&S penalties in the UK has been dramatic. In the 2017-18 year, 45 fines of more than £500,000 were handed down (the highest was £3m). By comparison, in the 2014-15 year only five fines of £500,000 or more were imposed (the highest was £750,000).
In New Zealand, the biggest fines appear to have settled in the $300,000 to $400,000 range, which is not only well short of the maximum available, but also well below the £500,000 mark (equivalent to about NZ$943,000).
What does the Forum think - is there any merit in taking a serious look at the UK's guidelines?
I've always thought that the person/people on top of a major organization have so much money that $300k to $400k is a pittance and wouldn't make much difference to them at all. I would agree that percentage fines would be a better deterrent than a bit of pocket money.
I'm don't believe that extending the charging or conviction options in a prosecution to include industrial manslaughter would significantly change attitudes. I do wonder whether it might also make the job of WorkSafe's Inspectors harder by increasing the amount of pushback they're already experiencing.
I would like to see the range of penalties extended and an automatic inflation adjustment applied so penalties don't become trivial as legislation isn't updated that often.
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