It is probably a good sign if you do not know the name Hugh Carlisle QC. The civil engineer that does has either been in serious trouble with the Health & Safety Executive or has an unhealthy interest in reading law reports.
At the moment Carlisle is counsel for the prosecution in the Heathrow Express trial, presenting the case against Balfour Beatty and Austrian tunnelling consultant Geoconsult.
Chambers' Guide to the Legal Profession lists Carlisle as the top barrister for health and safety law. This view is supported by many of his contemporaries. 'He is far and away the top health and safety barrister. The HSE nearly always uses him for its high profile cases,' says one lawyer. 'His command of health and safety is second to none,' said another. 'He is the master'.
The 62-year-old QC has been a health and safety lawyer for more than 20 years and has acted on some of the HSE's highest profile cases. These include the prosecution of the British Railways Board following the 1988 Clapham railway crash in which 35 people died. He also headed the HSE's successful prosecution of Port Ramsgate, FEAB, FKAB and Lloyds' Register of Shipping following the 1997 Port Ramsgate walkway collapse (NCE 25 February 1997).
'Health & Safety has become something of a niche area in criminal law,' explains an HSE spokesman. 'The advantage with using Hugh is that over the years he has gained the expertise.'
Carlisle was called to the Bar in 1961 after graduating from Downing College, Cambridge. He became Queen's Counsel in 1978 and is head of chambers at 1 Temple Gardens, one of the most respected chambers in the field of health and safety law. His arguments have defined the way the Health & Safety at Work Act is applied to the construction industry.
The successful prosecution in 1997 of Port Ramsgate over the ferry walkway collapse, which killed six people, showed that clients as well as contractors and designers can be held responsible for unsafe design and construction.
Another important case was the successful 1996 prosecution of chemical engineering firm Associated Octel. It had failed to ensure the safety of the employees of its contractor RGP after an RGP worker was badly burnt while carrying out maintenance work.
Octel had argued that, as the client, it had no right to control the manner in which its contractor carried out its work. But Carlisle successfully argued that, in certain circumstances, clients are responsible for the their contractor's actions and could be prosecuted under the Health & Safety at Work Act, even though they do not control the work carried out by contractors.