Local Authority food safety inspectors (sometimes known as environmental health officers, environmental health practitioners or technical officers) have powers to undertake a number of different enforcement actions :
- Informal verbal or written warnings
- Statutory Notices requiring action to be taken
- Emergency Closure
- Formal Cautions
Informal warnings are commonly used to draw attention to minor matters that require attention but which in themselves would not warrant further action. Sometimes verbal warnings may be followed with a letter or be incorporated within an inspection report. If you are asked to attend to matters in this way, then compliance is voluntary but if you are breaking the law you should be aware that a prosecution could result if the matters are serious enough.
Statutory notices are one step on from an informal warning and failing to comply with a notice is an offence. The only way that compliance is not mandatory is if the notice is appealed and the court decides to quash (cancel) it or change its requirements.
If the officer thinks that a prosecution is warranted but feels that the matter can be dealt with without going to court, a formal caution (now called a ‘simple caution’) may be offered. In order to do this, you must be willing to accept that you are guilty of the offence that you are charged with. These cautions are essentially the same as a successful prosecution except that there is no penalty. They can, however, be referred to if a prosecution is taken against you in the future. Whilst it is not a legal requirement, we recommend that you have legal representation by a solicitor if a caution is to be given, so that the correct procedures are followed.
Prosecutions are probably the ultimate sanction and even if you are found not guilty, press coverage can do considerable damage to your business. Courts can impose significant fines and in some cases can make compensation orders.
Should you find yourself the subject of any enforcement action, then it is essential to get good legal advice from the outset. Sometimes, this can result in the case being dropped or the penalties reduced. Our environmental health lawyers have experience of this type of work and you can contact them by telephoning, sending an e-mail or by using the online ‘chat’ facility