It was of some interest to hear this morning that the Government are to climb down on their somewhat controversial proposal to give credit for an early guilty plea of up to 50% of what would normally be the sentence handed out for an offence of that nature committed in those circumstances. Some are hailing this as a victory, particularly when the rather emotional topic of sentencing of rapists was brought into the equation.
You may not think that the u-turn as far as Government policy would affect anyone other than those who by habit, nature or design appear in the criminal justice system. What needs to be taken into account, however, is that the credit for guilty plea would be given to all who are prosecuted in the courts and, therefore, would also include those who face proceedings under Health & Safety legislation or indeed Environmental Protection legislation. Defendants facing health and safety investigations or Environment Agency investigations would also be afforded a 50% discount, quite a significant reduction when one considers the level of fines that are now being meted out to those convicted of such offences.
Even though the 50% reduction has gone, there is still a significant reduction of a third which is applicable to those who enter a guilty plea at the first opportunity, i.e. on the first occasion that their case comes before the court. This, taken together with the mitigation afforded to those who cooperate with the investigative authorities in regulatory offences, may mean a marked reduction in the final sentence handed down.
There is of course the question as to whether the incentive to cooperate means that companies are too readily providing the investigative bodies with the evidence in effect to prosecute them, whereas perhaps that evidence might not otherwise have been available. As a solicitor specialising in environmental law and health and safety law, I can certainly appreciate that this is clearly a difficult call for clients to make and one which needs proper consideration and professional advice.
If you are in this position whereby you are under investigation in respect of Health and Safety or indeed environmental matters, the team here at Farleys Solicitors would be happy to advise you.