R v Mirza  EWCA Crim 3074
A sentence of imprisonment in relation to Fire Safety Offences in respect of a person of previous good character, who had pleaded guilty to the offences, has been upheld by the Court of Appeal.
The appellant Mr Mirza had been sentenced to 3 years imprisonment on each of three offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire and Safety Order) 2005, suspended for 12 months, to run concurrently. He was ordered to carry out 200 hours unpaid work and to pay £3000 costs.
The Court of Appeal found that the sentencing Judge was not wrong in principle to find that the case passed the custody threshold.
The appellant Mr Mirza owned a small business called Furniture World Trade Centre in Southampton. On inspection on 30th June 2010, it was found that routes to the front and rear exit doors and the carpet store on the premises were obstructed by rolls of carpet and cardboard tubes. The rear fire exit door was deadlocked and the key had to be found to use it. It was also obstructed by timber and gas cylinders. There was no emergency lighting and there were inadequate exit signs.
An enforcement notice was served in September 2010, and several extensions given with regard to the completion date. However, by January 2012 the notice had not been compiled with. It was also found that recommendations made in a fire safety risk assessment in 2008 had been completely ignored.
- In sentencing the Judge noted the following:
- The breach was so serious in itself as to justify a custodial sentence, putting one or more persons at risk of death or serious injury in the event of fire.
- The multiple breaches compounded the severity of the offence.
- It was entirely fortunate in the circumstances that no fire had occurred.
- The breaches were aggravated by the fact that the appellant clearly ignored the contents of a fire assessment in 2008, warnings given by repeated visits, including the fire inspector in 2010.
- An enforcement notice had been served on him following the fire inspector’s visit and the appellant and completely failed to remedy matters.
The hours of unpaid work were reduced from 200 to 100 to take account of the defendant’s personal circumstances.
This is an important case for anyone advising on health and safety cases. It should not be assumed that sentences of imprisonment are reserved for offenders who have previously been before the courts, or cases where death or serious injury has occurred.
Definitive sentencing guidelines are only available in relation to health and safety offences where fatality has resulted. The Magistrates Court sentencing guidelines deal with health and safety offences, giving guidance as to the circumstances in which a custodial sentence might be justified. This includes statements that “such sentences should be reserved for the most serious cases” and “even where the threshold is passed, a custodial sentence is not inevitable”. However, the guidelines go on to state that a custodial sentence is more likely where breaches are repeated, warnings have been ignored and/or there is a high risk of serious injury. This is clearly consistent with the reasons given in this case.
R v Howe and Son (Engineers) Ltd,  2 Cr App R (S) 37 remains the leading authority for sentencing in health and safety cases.