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Since the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England and Wales on 1 October 2006, in the event of proceedings for a failure to satisfy any of the fire safety duties (as set out in Articles 8-22 of the Order) and for example failure to comply with the requirements imposed by an enforcement notice or prohibition notice, the maximum penalty on summary conviction (in the Magistrates’ Courts) has been a fine not exceeding £5,000; on conviction on indictment (in the Crown Court), the maximum penalty is an unlimited fine and/or two years’ imprisonment.
In the case of offences committed after 12 March 2015, the maximum penalty in the Magistrates’ Court is now an unlimited fine. This means that Magistrates will no longer need to send a case to the Crown Court for sentencing simply because the fine that they can impose is limited. This has the potential for more cases to remain within the Magistrates’ Court.
This, in conjunction with new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, almost certainly means that fines for offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order are likely to increase. Arguably, this makes compliance with the legislation even more important for businesses. Equally, it means that more cases may be defended; at present, some businesses enter guilty pleas in the Magistrates’ Court, simply because it is cheaper to do so than to engage lawyers and, possibly, expert witnesses, to assist in their defence of a prosecution. It also means that potential Defendants should seek legal advice at an early stage, particularly before they are invited to attend an interview under caution.
Maximum penalties in the Crown Court will not change.
The new powers only exist in England and Wales. In Scotland, the maximum fine on summary conviction in the Sheriff Court remains at £20,000.