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Health & Safety Fines Update

On 31 May 2011, Scottish Sea Farms Ltd and Logan Inglis Ltd pled guilty to breaches of health and safety regulations which had led to the death of two men on a fish farm service barge. Fines of £900,000 and £60,000 (reduced to £600,000 and £40,000 respectively to take account of the early guilty pleas) were imposed by the Sheriff at Oban.

Both companies appealed the level of the fines imposed on the basis that, in the circumstances of the case, the fine was excessive. Prior to the incident, both companies had impeccable safety records and were able to demonstrate all the mitigating factors the courts take into account when assessing the level of any punishment, with the only aggravating factor being that there was more than one fatality.

The appeal was heard by three High Court Judges who agreed that it was not clear whether the Sheriff had taken proper account of the various mitigating factors when reaching his decision and decided to reconsider the fines. Their ultimate view was that fines of £500,000 and £30,000 (reduced to £333,335 and £20,000 respectively to reflect the early guilty pleas) were sufficient to reflect the gravity of the safety breaches, yet at the same time meet the public interest.

Although each case will of course always turn on its own facts, this decision does provide something of a benchmark. Whilst the appeal Judges by no means set any sort of tariff system, what they have said is that offences of this nature shall lead to significant financial penalties being imposed and £500,000 may well now be considered by courts as a starting point when considering the appropriate level of fine, especially where there has been more than one fatality.

If you would like more information on this matter, please contact Bruce Craig or Lewis McDonald.

Download a copy of the decision here.

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