The MAIB (the maritime transport safety investigation board of the UK) has recently published a safety bulletin about liferafts that weren't properly serviced by a service station.

The full report is available here. In short, what happened was that a fishing vessel sank. When the crew attempted to deploy one of their liferafts, it didn't properly inflate. Luckily, they had a second liferaft that did inflate, but it was later found that it was also not properly serviced and contained batteries, flares, emergency kits and supplies that were beyond their due date by at least 10 years.

The MAIB's task is to prevent the recurring of such events, so they made a recommendation to have all liferafts re-serviced that were "done" by said service station. Investigations also showed that this wasn't a one-time problem, but several life rafts serviced by that station had similar issues and this must have been going on like this for years (the rafts were serviced yearly by the same service station).

Being a sailor myself, this is shocking, and I do hope that someone so carelessly and deliberately putting people's life at stake will face severe consequences. However, the MAIB report (as all of them do) contains the sentence

This bulletin is not written with litigation in mind and, pursuant to Regulation 14(14) of the Merchant Shipping (Accident Reporting and Investigation) Regulations 2012, shall not be admissible in any judicial proceedings whose purpose, or one of whose purposes, is to apportion liability or blame.

On the other hand, this agreement clearly indicates that the MAIB may share evidence with the police, but it's unclear to me how that works in practice.

How can a prosecutor open an incident and present the evidence, without the defendant just arguing that the evidence was presented in the MAIB report and hence is inadmissible in court? Based on this other question I'm assuming that a possible charge will be serious (the customer has no way of checking whether a life raft was serviced properly - he just gets back a sealed container that is only to be used in case of dire need).

[This particular incident happened to a UK vessel, the service station was in Spain, but since the transport safety investigation committees in most countries work similar, jurisdiction is probably not so important here]

2 Answers 2


There is a difference between sharing evidence, and sharing the analysis and conclusions of a professional investigation by a safety board in the form of a written report.

What you quoted simply says that the “bulletin” produced by the MAIB is inadmissible. Evidence gathered during the safety investigation in the form of expired batteries, undercharged inflators, service records, etc. may be shared.

Witness statements gathered under the promise of immunity are considered privileged information and are excluded, although police are obviously free to conduct their own interviews.

Prosecutors may then interpret and use this evidence as needed to build their own case independent of the MAIB report, but may not reference or use any part of the report itself.

  • Ok, so the defendant cannot just say "The MAIB report said the batteries where dead, so this is inadmissible"?
    – PMF
    Aug 31 at 14:59
  • 1
    @PMF, That the safety report may also comment on the batteries isn’t grounds for an objection by the defense if that’s what you mean. If the prosecutor referenced the report it would be inadmissible, but if they instead presented the dead batteries themselves, (or their own independently obtained test report) it would be admissible. Existence of evidence in one report does not preclude that same evidence from being used elsewhere. Facts are facts, you just can’t cite the MAIB report as a source of information during civil or criminal proceedings. Aug 31 at 16:28

Regulations 14(14) and (15) says:

 If any part of any document or analysis it contains to which this paragraph applies is based on information obtained in accordance with an inspector's powers under sections 259 and 267(8) of the Act, that part is inadmissible in any judicial proceedings whose purpose or one of whose purposes is to attribute or apportion liability or blame unless a Court, having regard to the factors mentioned in regulation 13(5)(b) or (c), determines otherwise.

(15) For the purposes of paragraph (14) the documents are any publication produced by the Chief Inspector as a result of a safety investigation.

This prohibition protects those who may have committed offences, or are otherwise potentially culpable, from self-incrimination by enabling them to comply with a safety investigation to prevent future accidents.

It does not prohibit independent criminal investigations by the police, or e.g the Health and Safety Executive, who can use their own powers to obtain evidence and interview suspects whi are protected from self-incrimination as they cannot be compelled to answer questions.

The following two paragraphs confirm that trials etc to apportion any blame are possible, and the safety inspector may be called to give (non-expert opinion) evidence but not about the details within, or obtained via, their safety inspection report:

(16) For the purposes of these Regulations where any inspector is required to attend judicial proceedings the inspector is not required to provide opinion evidence or analysis of information provided to them, or to provide information obtained in accordance with an inspector's powers under sections 259 and 267(8) of the Act where the purpose or one of the purposes of those proceedings is to attribute or apportion liability or blame unless a Court, having regard to all the factors mentioned in regulation 13(5)(b) or (c) determines otherwise.

(17) In this regulation “judicial proceedings” includes any civil or criminal proceedings before any Court, or person having by law the power to hear, receive and examine evidence on oath.

  • 3
    Sometimes, getting the truth is more important than handing out consequences.
    – Dale M
    Aug 30 at 21:31
  • So the inspector may testify before a court about the facts found (in this case: that the servicing hasn't been properly done), but he can refuse to answer any question about an interview with the suspect? Is that accurate?
    – PMF
    Aug 31 at 6:23
  • @DaleM True, but in this case I see no other option than to impose severe penalties on such behavior, unless there was a way to increase safety by providing some means of verifying the work done by the customer.
    – PMF
    Aug 31 at 6:29
  • @PMF if I ran this service station and my choice was to tell you about every dodgy raft out there and go to jail, or shut up and stay out of jail, guess which one I'm choosing? Option 2 leaves potentially hundreds or thousands of lives at risk, while Option 1 means that I get away with it. Are you going to be the politician who drowns hundreds of sailors?
    – Dale M
    Aug 31 at 6:42
  • @DaleM Sure, I understand your point and I fully agree. I just would like to know what the police can do to still gain or re-use admissable evidence.
    – PMF
    Aug 31 at 6:47

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