Comment – Consistently inconsistent…

Fine handed down after site fatality highlights fickle nature of legal system.

It is just 48 hours since I – like so many before me – labelled the law an ass. But with uncustomary haste, the legal profession has today proved itself so be so much worse than that. With a single ruling, it has proven itself to be utterly inconsistent and wildly out of touch. It has proven that it values material things above human life. It has proven that for all its talk of and reliance upon precedent, the UK legal system largely makes up the rules as it goes along. It has proven itself to be a blunderbuss solution to a problem that requires a deftly-wielded scalpel; a baboon in a wig.

The reason for my original (latest) outburst was the fact that a (non-demolition) company had been fined £1.2 million as a result of the injuries sustained by two teenage boys that broke into a site (illegally) and climbed atop a train (illegally) and received a serious electric shock. So, before I move on, that is £1.2 million for a non-fatal incident caused – primarily – by trespass. Got that? OK.

Today comes the news that demolition company McGee Group has been prosecuted and fined over the death of a worker back in 2014. The level of that fine? £500,000 and some loose change in legal costs.

What can we draw from this? That you can kill a worker and be hit with a fine that amounts to a slap on the wrist; but allow two teenage trespassers to be electrocuted and the fine tops the million pound mark?

If this were an isolated incident, I’d be willing to pass it off; to let it slide by without mention or comment. But it isn’t.

Cast your mind back to May 2018 an you might recall that UK demolition contractor found itself on the pointy end of a £566,000 fine after the skip of a truck “touched or came close to touching 33KV overhead power lines”. No-one was hurt in that incident. The power lines were undamaged. The lights stayed on locally. Yet Mick George – the contractor in question – was hit with a fine of more than half a million pounds because it “should have assessed the risks from the overhead power lines more rigorously”.

I hate to labour the point but that is a £1.2 million fine for a tragic but non-fatal incident, £566,000 for an incident in which no-one was hurt, and £500,000 for a wholly-avoidable accident in which a demolition worker was killed.

It is, I admit, overly simplistic to compare these three separate cases; like comparing apples with oranges. However, it is impossible to overlook the fact that a fatal accident has been considered less “fine-worthy” than an incident in which no-one was hurt or injured. Such a lack of consistency is to the detriment of the legal profession and calls into question just what it, and the judges that preside over it, believe to be the important matters.

In light of this latest ruling, the family of Lithuanian-born Dainius Rupsys have every right to feel aggrieved that it has taken six years for the judiciary to value the life of their loved one so cheaply. In light of this latest ruling, the directors of Mick George would be fully justified in spitting feathers over the disproportionate fine with which it was hit over a “non-incident”. McGee Group, meanwhile, didn’t just dodge a bullet. Instead, in a judicial misfire, it received barely a scratch even though the company found itself in the legal system’s crosshairs at point blank range.