Sentencing Trends For Health And Safety

Author:Mr Tristan Conway-Behan and Niav O' Higgins
Profession:Arthur Cox

In 2010, the Health and Safety Authority ("HSA") successfully completed 27 criminal prosecutions: 10 summary and 17 on indictment. In addition, a further 23 files were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions for directions. These sentences resulted in total fines of €571,900. In addition, two twelve month (suspended) custodial sentences were handed down. These figures are slightly down on 2009 where a total of 38 prosecutions were concluded with total fines of €708,850. However, overall, the level of fines is on the increase (as is the level of (suspended) custodial sentences imposed). Sentencing Many of the principles for the sentencing of corporate offenders have developed out of well established principles applicable to individuals. This differs greatly from days gone by when corporations were thought to be exempt from the criminal law. Devising a suitable penalty was problematic, especially in olden days, when virtually every crime of any gravity carried the death penalty. "Can you hang its common seal?" asked one advocate during the reign of James II. When compared with other Western countries, Ireland retains a largely unstructured sentencing system. Maximum sentences are prescribed by statute for most offences, for example in the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act, 2005. However, there is no guidance on the severity of punishment appropriate for any particular offence. In the 2003 Australian case of R v Nemer , the court said: "There is no sentence that is exactly right in a given case. In any particular case, the most that can usually be said is that an appropriate sentence will be within a certain range. Any sentence within that range will be appropriate." Accordingly, one of the challenges in our sentencing system is overcoming the apparent inconsistencies between the approaches of individual sentencing courts. Reliance on Appellate Guidance All common law jurisdictions rely to some extent on appellate guidance as a means of structuring sentencing discretion. A useful summary of the relevant principles relating to sentencing comes from the decision of the Supreme Court in People (DPP) v RMcC where Kearns J. stated: "...there is a 'due process requirement in sentencing'...This requires that any sentencing court should conduct a systematic analysis of the facts of the case, assess the gravity of the offence, the point on the spectrum which the particular offence or offences may lie, the circumstances and character of the offender and...

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