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Court declines to follow draft guidance | Food Safety Lawer

Court declines to follow draft guidance | Food Safety Lawer

York Magistrates declined to follow the new draft sentencing guidelines for Food Safety in dealing with one summons for failing to keep a factory clean and maintained in good condition. 

Jeremy was recently instructed by Paul Mercer of Village Green Preserves, who had been prosecuted by York Environmental health in respect of two compliance visits to their premises at Millfield Industrial Estate, Whedrake, York in 2014. The summons related to alleged breaches of Annex II Chapter 1 Para 1 and Article 4 (2)of Regulation EC No 352/2004 and Reg 19 of the Food Safety and Hygene Regs 2013made under section 2(2) of the Eurpoean Communities Act 1972.

An Environmental Inspector visited the premises in February and found various minor compliance failures, and gave the company 4 weeks to rectify the issues. When he returned in July he felt that further issues had arisen, but the company pleaded not guilty to these issues, and the York Council withdrew those allegations at Court on 29th April 2015.

Before the Magistrates, the Company explained how the breaches had occurred at a difficult time after the Christmas period, but that new procedures had been put in place to ensure future compliance. Although the Company had been under pressure due to the failure of a new high speed filling machine, the business was now on an even keel. 

The Magistrates accepted the main mitigating features, which were that there was no risk of an adverse effect on human health as the foods were boiled, sealed and preserved before being stored in the company's warehouse. The Company had no history of complaints and invited the Magistrates to visit the premises, to see the steps that had been taken to ensure future compliance.

An interesting feature of the case was that the Magistrates were referred to the new Draft Guidelines on Food Safety issued by the Sentencing Council but declined to follow them as they were not yet in force. The Court made it clear however that it recognised the general principles in the guidelines and dealt with the Company on the basis that it was 'Micro' business with a turnover of less than £2m, and this was a case of low culpability and low harm.

The Court imposed a small fine of £1200 and ordered the company to pay costs of £873. The Defendants where however granted an order for 2/3 of their defence costs to be paid out of central funds ( to be taxed) to reflect the fact that the company had been successful in the bulk of its Defence.

The new Sentencing Guidelines Consultation for Health and Safety, Corporate Manslaughter, and Food Safety & Hygiene Offences were introduced in November 2014, and consolidate thinking across the range of regulatory offences. Important principles are the assessment of Culpability and Harm, followed by identification of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

Levels of fines in Food Safety Cases depend up the size of the company, from Large ( with a turnover of £50 million + ) where the fines range from £2,000 to £1,200,000, Medium ( £10 - £50 million turnover) Small ( £2 - £10 million turnover) and Micro ( less than £2 million where fines range from £100 to £120,000). 

For any advice and assistance for issues like these please do call Jeremy on 0844 2722322 or submit a comment below. Jeremy will come back to you at the earliest convenience.

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