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James Ageros KC appears in two appeals against sentence in the Court Of Appeal

James Ageros KC, has recently been involved in two appeals against sentence in the Court Of Appeal.

In the first, CRO Ports London Ltd, a fine of £1.8m imposed on a company whose turnover was a little in excess of £20m was reduced by £1.3m to £500,000.

The case was dealt with in the Crown Court very shortly before the new sentencing guideline came into force. While making strong comments about the need for companies to ensure health and safety standards, Treacy LJ considered the fine was manifestly excessive, and reduced it by over two thirds.

In the second, he appeared for a Company called Watling Tyre Services Ltd, which had pleaded guilty to two offences of failing to comply with the duties under section 2 & 3 HSWA 1974. The company was fined a total of £1m in respect of both offences, which related to the death of a young tyre fitter, killed when the large industrial plant tyre he had been working on exploded.

The main point for appeal was the company was only sentenced over ten years after the incident occurred. It was argued that in those circumstances the new seating guideline should not apply, or it should be applied at a lower level. It was not disputed that none of the delay was attributable to the defendant’s actions. It was argued that the fine otherwise merited should be reduced because of the excessive and inordinate delay; that there had been a prima facie branch of the Article 6 right to trial within a fair time, and the common law right to trial within a reasonable time. It was argued that if fines in such cases were not reduced there would be no spur to prompt prosecution. The Court rejected the arguments and refused to decrease the fine, stating that the position with companies was different to that with individuals, where the prejudice caused by delay would inevitably be greater. They were not prepared to infer that prejudice had been caused, nor that it was not necessary to show such prejudice.

Heard on the same day as Watling Tyre Services Ltd was the case of Thelwall, where a human contractor’s sentence of 18 months’ immediate imprisonment following the death of an employee who had been working under his control was upheld. The appellant had a previous conviction for breaching health and safety law that also involved a fatality.

In the judgement refusing the appeal, and in exchanges prior to giving judgement, the LCJ was critical of the costs claimed by the HSE in Thelwall and Watling; and critical of what he considered to be overlong skeletons arguments produced by counsel for the HSE.

The LCJ was also critical of what he considered to be a widespread citing of sentencing authorities said to be analogous to the current case, when a guideline existed. He said this had to stop.

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