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COURT OF APPEAL ON SENTENCING H&S CASES

Sellafield and Network Rail lose appeals against sentence

The joined cases of R v Sellafield Ltd and R v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd [2014] EWCA Crim 49 have been considered by UK Court of Appeal regarding the factors to be taken into account in relation to the level of fines imposed on companies for health and safety offences.

Sellafield was fined £700,000 after pleading guilty to offences concerning the disposal of radioactive waste. Network Rail was fined £500,000 arising from a collision at an unmanned level crossing. Both defendants appealed against the level of fines imposed.

Both appeals dismissed

In dismissing the appeals the Court referred to the principles of sentencing in the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) 2003 which requires the court to have regard to: the purpose of the fine; including punishing and rehabilitating offenders; and protecting the public.

In addition the Court made the following points:

  • the court must consider culpability of the offender; harm caused or that might foreseeably be caused; the financial circumstances of the offender; and the seriousness of the offence;
  • CJA 2003 requires regard to the financial circumstances of the offender. This is also made clear in the Council Corporate Manslaughter & Health and Safety Offences Causing Death sentencing guidelines published in 2010;
  • there is no ceiling on the amount of a fine that can be imposed, particularly on a very large company. A fine of £1 million was not only applicable to a major disaster;
  • the fine must be large enough to ensure that the message is brought home to the directors and members of the company (usually the shareholders);
  • the court focussed on the financial circumstances of the corporate defendants to ensure that the fines imposed would directly affect the shareholders and directors.

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