The Work-Related Deaths Protocol (WRDP) will change as of October the 1st, meaning that health and safety prosecutions will be settled much more swiftly going forward. It also means that health and safety prosecutions will be held before any coroner’s inquest, which should speed up the wheels of justice for a victim’s family. As the law currently stands, health and safety charges will only be dealt with before the inquest if a manslaughter charge is being heard. Now the prosecution will proceed independently from manslaughter or homicide charges.
Richard Daniels, chair of the Work-Related Deaths National Liaison Committee (NLC) announced the changes and said: “All signatories are committed to seeking justice for bereaved family members when a work-related death has occurred and someone should be held to account. The changes will help us deliver this justice more effectively and sooner in less complex cases.”
These changes are not mandatory. Each signatory organisation has to decide how to approach implementing them. The HSE has decided to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Coroners’ Society, which outlines the parameters for cooperation that will exist between coroners and health and safety inspectors.
When determining whether to commence criminal proceedings, either before or after any inquest, the MOU indicates that the HSE will consider several issues, including:
- Available dates for an inquest
- The wishes of the coroner, Police, Crown Prosecution Service, as well as the bereaved family
- Whether the investigation has complied with the WRDP
- Whether any holding of an inquest will lead to any further information being revealed.
The MOU outlines the procedures to be taken for the disclosure of documents if the HSE decides to await the outcome of the inquest. The MOU directs the coroner to act fairly in considering what information to disclose to interested persons. This consideration will need to be balanced against any claim of prejudice put forward by the HSE.
The document notes, for example: “[The] HSE may obtain evidence to rebut potential ‘defences’ that may be raised by an employer. This evidence may not have any bearing on the death but, if disclosed, would raise a significant risk of prejudice to the criminal investigative process, which will continue after the inquest.”