Health and Safety Sentencing Inconsistent?
Employers who plead not guilty to a breach of health and safety law may end up getting a lighter sentence if found
guilty than those who admit an offence.
The latest issue of health and safety newsletter Safeguard Update says this is in spite of the Sentencing Act making it
clear that a guilty plea must be seen as a mitigating circumstance when sentencing.
Safeguard Update says while no two prosecutions are comparable in all respects, research shows that the courts may
sometimes be persuaded to take a softer stance if they have heard the defence case argued.
In one example a company recently pleaded guilty to failing to notify a serious harm accident and was fined $3,000.
Another company which pleaded not guilty to the same offence was fined $1,000.
Two other employers were charged after workers had their arms crushed in conveyor belts at each company. The company
which pleaded not guilty was fined $10,000, while the company which pleaded guilty was fined $30,000. Both had previous
convictions for similar incidents and the reparation ordered was almost identical.
“The timing of a guilty plea is important, with most credit expected to be given to those who save the courts time and
money by admitting responsibility at the first opportunity,” Safeguard Update says.
“Again, however, the reality doesn’t always match up, with some judges giving full credit for late, and even last
minute, plea changes, and sentences seldom showing any significant advantage associated with an early admission of