The first case involved the prosecution of Francis Brown Ltd which was prosecuted for a breach of the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 after an employee, Les Buller, was electrocuted whilst rewiring a barn and fitting a new socket at the home of company director Simon Brown. Mr Buller was not qualified to carry out the work and was using only basic tools when the incident occurred. The prosecution alleged that the company had failed to ensure that a specialist contractor was instructed to do the work and refused to accept the defendant’s position that Mr Buller had not been acting in the course of his employment at the time of the incident.
However, three days into the seven day trial, the Judge ordered the jury to return a verdict of not guilty, after determining that there was no case to answer. The HSE accepted the decision that was largely based on the premise that the company had no control over the work Mr Buller was carrying out at the time that the incident occurred.
The second case involved G & AM Lawson which had been prosecuted for two breaches of health and safety legislation (Regulation 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and s2(1) HSWA) following an incident in April 2010. Their employee, Les Brown, sustained fatal injuries when he was struck by a ramp which fell from a trailer as he was assisting in moving a bulldozer on site. Subsequent investigations found that there was insufficient oil in the hydraulic system which had allowed air to get into the cylinder and this caused the ramp to collapse. The prosecution alleged that the company had failed to carry out sufficient mechanical and functional checks on the trailer which resulted in the defect not being picked up.
However, following the conclusion of the prosecution case, the Judge determined that, even taken at its highest, the prosecution evidence had failed to support charges that had been laid and directed the jury to return verdicts of not guilty. HHJ Hughes was also critical of the fact it had taken five years for the case to come to court, particularly as the family of Mr Brown had been present throughout the trial and had therefore heard evidence surrounding the evidence five years after material events.
The cases highlight how the burden on the prosecution to provide sufficient evidence in support of charges that they present is not a mere formality. Despite the decision being taken to proceed with a prosecution implying that evidence had been assessed adequately, it is important to dissect the prosecution case to establish if each of the elements of the offence(s) can be proven.