Focus on… Legal advice for health and safety offences

With the introduction of substantial fines, it has never been more important to take specialist advice when facing charges relating to health and…

With the introduction of substantial fines brought in by the “Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences: Definitive Guideline” issued by the Sentencing Council, it has never been more important to instruct early and take specialist advice when facing charges relating to health and safety offences.

Being a niche area of law, it is unlikely that a duty solicitor or High Street firm would have experience of health and safety law and would not be in a position to appropriately advise an individual or company faced with charges brought by the HSE or other regulatory body.

This was experienced recently by Sarah Truscott, a young director who was prosecuted by the HSE under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Miss Truscott who had been a director at her father’s electrical and electronic equipment recycling company, was arrested on her doorstep in 2016 after she had failed to respond to a court summons which had been delivered to her previous address.

Miss Truscott was held by the police for three days and was seen by a duty solicitor who advised her to plead guilty to the offence however she refused, confirming that she reported to a Managing Director above her and therefore did not hold the relevant position for the section 37 offence.

Once released, she sought specialist legal advice and was ultimately acquitted at a trial in November 2017, receiving a unanimous ‘not guilty’ verdict. Miss Truscott described the process as 'a legal minefield' which further reinforces the view that it is imperative that experts in the field of regulatory law should be instructed at an early stage in these sorts of cases.

Key points

  • Speak to your insurance broker as soon as you receive notice of a regulatory investigation to ascertain whether your policy provides legal cover.
  • Be aware that your legal cover may also provide cover for directors and employees. Seek the advice of your insurance broker for confirmation of the cover.
  • Seek early legal advice from a specialist regulatory team who will be able to attend the police station with you or assist with drafting written representations. Expert involvement at an early stage can greatly reduce the length of an investigation and assist to achieve the best outcome for those facing charges.

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