Stumpmaster v Worksafe NZ (9 August 2018) is the High Court’s first (and long-awaited) decision on the correct approach to sentencing for offences under the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015.
A full bench of the Court (two Judges) heard three sentencing appeals from the District Court. Since the first health and safety sentencing under the new legislation in August 2017, there had been concerns that the District Court had not had a consistent approach to sentencing and was not providing clear guidance for defendants.
The High Court largely confirmed its existing approach to health and safety sentencing, and in so doing will have provided certainty to Worksafe. The Court also specified the range of fines that may be given. The new guideline bands for fines are as follows:
Low culpability – $250,000 (up from $50,000 under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992);
Medium culpability – $250,000 to $600,000 (up from $50,000 to $100,000);
High culpability – $600,000 to $1,000,000 (up from $100,000 to $175,000);
Very high culpability – $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 (up from $175,000 plus).
In sentencing, the High Court considers the culpability of the offending (responsibility for fault or wrongdoing; blame) and then takes into account any aggravating or mitigating factors. Importantly, the High Court stated that genuine efforts to assist victim and family from the outset have particular merit, and should result in sentencing credit. Discounts for these mitigating factors are on top of the 25% discount which may be available for defendants who enter an early guilty plea.
The Court also said that any increase in the level of fines under the 2015 Act should not lower the size of reparation orders. These awards are compensation for the victims and their families and are governed by the Sentencing Act 2002, rather than the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015.
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If you would like more information about the Health and Safety at Work Act or have any questions about this or similar issues, please get in touch with our employment and dispute resolution experts on (04) 4720020.