Last reviewed 8 October 2019
Fire safety lawyers have analysed 200 cases brought under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and noted that in the years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy of 2017, average fines have increased dramatically, leading them to speculate about a possible “Grenfell effect” at work.
The analysis was carried out by the fire safety solicitor and advocate, Warren Spencer, and fire safety lawyer, James Aird.
Introducing the investigation of some 200 cases, the lawyers said, “There is no doubt that the courts have taken a much more serious approach towards fire safety cases over the last 5 years than in previous years, but there may be a number of reasons for that.”
Warren Spencer said, “My cases reveal an overall average fine per case or defendant between 2006 and 2019 of £10,520.33. The average fine per charge is £1403.
“Significantly, the average fine per case for the first 7 years following the Order coming into force (2006–2013) was only £6507.33. The average fine over the last 5 years (2014–2019) was £20,375.85.
“This begs the question, what is the reason for the increase? Is it the ‘Grenfell effect’?”
The lawyers conclude that while a Grenfell effect may seem “the natural conclusion” to reach, it is probably “not that straightforward,” and highlight, in addition, the removal in March 2015 of the £5000 per charge cap on magistrates’ court fines, meaning that magistrates’ courts had significantly increased powers which they “immediately began to use”.
Second, the lawyers note that on 1 February 2016, the Health and Safety Offences Sentencing Guidelines were published and although these guidelines specifically stated that they did not apply to fire safety cases, nevertheless the courts began to use them.
This, Warren Spencer and James Aird note, has had “a massive impact upon the fines handed out to corporate defendants”.
Warren Spencer concluded, “There is no doubt in my mind that the Grenfell tragedy has increased the seriousness of fire safety offences in the eyes of the court. However, I believe that the significant increase in fines is down to the combined impact of the new sentencing guidelines, the removal of the £5000 fine limit and, of course, Grenfell.”