The Trades Union Congress and British Safety Council have launched a joint report calling for the introduction of higher fines and increased sentencing powers for magistrates' courts where health and safety laws are broken.

In response to the report, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, unveiled plans to increase magistrates' courts' sentencing powers in cases where maximum fines are presently less than £20,000. He also announced plans to extend the range of offences for which imprisonment may be considered.

But higher health and safety fines have been on the cards for some time, according to Beachcroft Wansbroughs' partner Anthony Cherry.

He commented: "Ever since the decision last year in the case of R v. F Howe and Sons (Engineers), it has been obvious to all in the health and safety field that penalties would have to be increased.

"The courts will need to strike a balance, however, by continuing to look at each case on its own merits."