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Health & Safety (Offences) Bill through the Lords

In contrast to the Corporate Manslaughter Act’s turbulent and high profile passage through Parliament, the Health & Safety (Offences) Bill has almost completed its journey, unscathed and largely unnoticed. On the 10th October, the Bill passed its third and final reading in the House of Lords. It is expected to be granted Royal Assent shortly, possibly coming into force in early 2009.

The Private Members’ Bill, introduced by Labour MP Keith Hill, seeks to amend Section 33 of HSWA 1974 to raise the maximum penalty available in the lower courts to £20,000 for most safety offences, and, perhaps more importantly, to make imprisonment an option for more breaches.

Speaking at the third reading debate, Lord McKenzie said of the Bill “good employers and diligent managers and directors have nothing to fear, indeed they have much to gain as it tackles the commercial advantage that unscrupulous businesses gain from non-compliance”.

On the issue of the introduction of custodial sentences, Lord McKenzie said he intended to write to the Sentencing Guidelines Council to ensure that it updates its guidelines “as a matter of urgency” so that the courts have up-to-date advice once the Bill is enacted. He stated that he would “stress the important point that imprisonment should be reserved for the most serious matters, and the expectation is that these matters will generally be concluded in the higher courts.”

Schedule 1 of the Bill contains the new Schedule 3A to HSWA 1974. Under 3A, breaches of sections 2 to 8 will carry maximum custodial sentences of 12 months on summary conviction and two years for a conviction on indictment. The same custodial penalties will apply to convictions under s33(1) subsections (e), (f), (g), (j), (k), (l), (m) and (o).

A copy of the bill can be found here.

Members of our Health & Safety and Regulatory Law team are happy to advise on any matters arising out of the new legislation.

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