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Court reduces £50k fine imposed after gate severed child's finger

Court reduces £50k fine imposed after gate severed child's finger

Tuesday 12 January 2021

Court reduces £50k fine imposed after gate severed child's finger


A £50,000 fine imposed on the Government after a school gate fractured and severed a little boy's finger has been reduced to £40,000 by the Royal Court after an appeal - but not for the reasons put forward by the Government.

The penalty was handed to the States Employment Board (SEB) by the Royal Court in May 2020 on the grounds that it had breached Jersey’s Health and Safety regulations.

As the SEB employs all staff members within the relevant Government departments and the school in question, it is legally responsible for the health and safety of any person on the school’s grounds and therefore for the breach leading to the young child's injury.

The case was brought before the Royal Court after a child’s left ring finger had got caught in the gap between one of the school’s gates and its frame. The finger was fractured and the tip was severed; although it was retrieved it could not be re-attached during surgery.

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Pictured: The States Employment Board employs all staff members within the relevant Government departments.

While Crown Advocate Chris Baglin moved for a £20,000 fine at the sentencing, the Court, presided over by the Deputy Bailiff, Robert MacRae, sitting with Jurats Rozanne Thomas and Kim Averty, decided to increase that to £50,000 and to order the SEB to pay the prosecution’s costs to the value of £5,000.

In November, the SEB argued against the fine which Advocate Debbie Corbel described as “manifestly excessive”

She argued the Royal Court had relied too heavily on English guidelines when considering what fine to impose, relying on email exchanges between the Court and the Crown Advocate, ultimately leading it to more than double the recommended sum.

Advocate Corbel also suggested the SEB couldn’t be considered to be the only cause of the accident and argued it had been sentenced on the basis that it was “wholly culpable."

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Pictured: The appeal was heard by the Bailiff, Timothy Le Cocq, and Jurats Elizabeth Dulake, Steven Austin-Vautier and Dr Gareth Hughes.

While she acknowledged the SEB hadn’t provided “adequate supervision” of its installation, the SEB’s lawyer argued that, having employed expert company St. Helier Ironworks, they couldn’t have been expected to 'stand over their shoulders' while they were doing the work.

The appeal was heard by the Bailiff, Timothy Le Cocq, sitting with Jurats Elizabeth Dulake, Steven Austin-Vautier and Dr Gareth Hughes, who eventually rejected both arguments.

While they voiced concern about the previous Court seeking conclusions from the Attorney General Mark Temple about the application of English guidelines, which they said should not have happened, the Court said it was apparent the correct principles had been applied.

They added that the SEB had been sentenced for “what it did and did not do” adding that the fact St. Helier Ironworks had not been prosecuted hadn’t “adversely affected” the SEB sentence.

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Pictured: The Court eventually concluded the sentence was “manifestly excessive”.

The Court however went on to write that they were concerned the previous judgment didn’t explain why the Court had imposed a sentence two-and-a-half times higher than the one recommended by the Crown, even taking into account their assessment that the risk of potential harm was serious. 

“We accept that sentences imposed in matters such as this should sting because this legislation is designed to protect employees or members of the public,” the Court wrote. 

“A substantial departure from previous sentences of this nature for unexplained reasons however is of concern... We cannot in the round, feel that such an increase from the conclusions in this case was justified in its entirety nor that such a high sentence was appropriate.” 

The Court concluded the sentence was “manifestly excessive”, but noted that this wasn't for the same reasons put forward by the SEB at appeal, and agreed to reduce the fine to £40,000.

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