Safety Courts and Crime: occupational safety and health prosecutions in the Magistrates' courts
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This paper reports on an empirically based study of occupational safety and health prosecutions in the Magistrates' courts in the State of Victoria, Australia. It examines the way in which the courts construct occupational safety and health issues during prosecutions against alleged offenders, and then theorises the role of the criminal law in health and safety regulation. The paper argues that courts, inspectors, prosecutors and defence counsel are involved in filtering or reshaping occupational safety and health issues during the prosecution process, both pre-trial and in court. An analysis of the pattern of investigation of health and safety offences shows that they are constructed by focusing on 'events', in most cases incidents resulting in injury or death. This 'event focus' ensures that the attention of the parties is drawn to the details of the incident and away from the broader context of the event. This broader context includes the way in which work is organised at the workplace and the quality of occupational safety and health management (the micro context), and the pressures within capitalist production systems for occupational safety and health to be subordinated to production imperatives (the macro context). In particular, during the court-based sentencing process, defence counsel is able to adopt a range of 'isolation' techniques that isolate the incident from its micro and macro contexts, thereby individualising and decontextualising the incident. The paper concludes that the legal system plays a key role in decontextualising and individualising health and safety issues, and that this process is part of the 'architecture' of the legal system, and a direct consequence of the 'form of law'.
Policy and Practice in Health and Safety
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