The statistics show it’s worth exploring a not guilty plea to protect your company’s reputation

To plead or not to plead, that is the question! I like to keep an eye on retail prosecutions by regulators. My excuse is that it’s my job- or maybe it’s a symptom of my NEBOSH training and CIEH qualification in food premises inspection.

Anyway, the Health & Safety Executive annual statistics were published in November, and noticeably, the authorities have published their conviction rate for offences for the year - 85%. For some reason, this triggered a recollection of something I had previously read - that most of those charged with regulatory offences plead guilty.

Is this true? And if so, are the regulators so spot on in evaluating who and when to prosecute, that the majority of defendants are left with very little option but to simply plead guilty?

Given the gravity and inevitable damaging publicity that comes with a criminal conviction, along with the fact that a guilty plea will almost guarantee a very hefty fine these days, I couldn’t resist having a look at what the statistical odds were for those who have embarked on a trial in pursuit of acquittal to clear their company name.

Of course, each case turns on its own facts and merits, but based purely on the available published statistics, the odds of winning appear surprisingly good!

A little digging into the judicial and court statistics for 2010 show that about 68% of crown court prosecutions involve a guilty plea - a figure on the rise, from about 54% in 2001. And 64% of defendants who pleaded not guilty in 2010 were acquitted. Of those who went on to appeal a conviction, 45% had their appeals allowed or varied.

A simple overlay of the statistics, which say that an average 68% of cases in 2010 entered a guilty plea anyway, raises the question: were most of the health and safety convictions guilty pleas?

Reflecting on these figures, and with the knowledge of our 100% trial success rate for health and safety cases, we would definitely endorse exploring a not guilty plea.

It certainly appears that sometimes it is worth fighting to protect your commercial “pound of flesh”.