9th March 2016
When an accident is investigated by the HSE, what is the difference between PACE and Section 20 interviews?
Following an accident or incident within a workplace, Health & Safety Executive (HSE) Inspectors have authority to request formal interviews with those responsible for Health & Safety management within that workplace, or those directly involved in the accident/incident in question.
The inspector has the option to either conduct their interview under full Police and Criminal Evidence ACT 1984 (PACE) rules, or an alternative under the Health & Safety at Work etc. ACT 1974 (HSWA 1974) section 20.
A PACE interview will be used to interview suspects of a breach of HSWA 1974 and is conducted under caution. They are often tape recorded and the interviewee is entitled to legal representation.
Any evidence gathered during a PACE interview can be used during any ensuing court case to convict, or otherwise, the suspect or their organisation.
You have no obligation to attend a PACE interview requested by an inspector, and you do have the right to remain silent.
Under Section 20, an inspector has the authority to demand that their questions are answered and a declaration of truth be signed.
This authority circumnavigates the interviewee’s right to silence, however there are restrictions on the way an inspector can use the findings of a Section 20 interview.
The HSE guidelines tell inspectors that they should use Section 20 powers to interview witnesses as opposed to suspects, although if a suspect remains silent during a PACE interview, a Section 20 may be used obtain answers to an Inspector’s questions.
Any statement obtained cannot be relied upon in court as it is not directly admissible. The interviewee involved would need to be called to give evidence unless the content of the statement can be agreed by all parties in advance as a ‘formal admission’.
Interviewees should be aware that they have the right to be accompanied in Section 20 interviews as Inspectors will not always be forthcoming with this information.
Should you find yourself in the situation of being called to either of these types of interview, it is best to seek the advice of a Health & Safety professional – either a consultancy or legal advisor.