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WorkSafe New Zealand v Buttle [2022] NZDC 20694

Published 26 October 2022

Application to dismiss charges — officer of PCBU — duty of directors — statutory language — specificity of charge — Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, s 44 — P v Wyatt [1966] NZLR 1118, CA — WorkSafe New Zealand v Talleys Group Ltd [2018] NZCA 587, [2019] 2 NZLR 198 — SafeWork NSW v Neville George Heatherington [2019] NSWDC 11 — WorkCover Authority of New South Wales v Customised Gas Australia Group NSWDC 361 — WorkCover Authority of NSW v E&T Bricklaying Pty Ltd [2015] NSWDC 369 — Kirk v Industrial Relations Commission [2010] HCA 1, [2010] 239 CLR 531. The three defendants faced one charge each under s 44 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, namely that they had failed to exercise due diligence as officers of a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) to ensure that the PCBU complied with its duties. The three defendants were directors of Whakaari Management Limited, a private company associated with the family ownership of Whakaari/White Island. The charges arose from the Whakaari eruption of 2019. The three defendants sought to have the charges against them dismissed under s 147 of the Criminal Procedure Act, submitting that the charging document did not contain sufficient particulars as to each charge. The Judge considered the application and noted that the charging documents contained the statutory language from the legislative provision; however this did not render the charging document defective. The charge of a failure to exercise due diligence was not such that it required further specificity, as opposed to a charge for breach of a primary duty of care. The Judge found that the charging documents were not defective. For completeness, the Judge went on to consider the remainder of the defendants' grounds. Even if the charging documents had been defective, the principle of fairness underpinning New Zealand's justice system would have permitted the charging documents to be rectified. Given the public interest in the proceedings and that the trial was still some nine months away the Court would not have found any prejudice to the defendants. The Judge dismissed the defendants' applications. Judgment Date: 18 October 2022.