The Sentencing Council has this week issued proposals for those convicted of manslaughter. It is surely no coincidence these are issued weeks after the CPS announced charges of gross negligence manslaughter as a result of Hillsborough and the Police speak openly of potential charges following the Grenfell tragedy.
Prior to these there were no existing guidelines other than for manslaughter by reason of provocation and corporate manslaughter which fell under Health and Safety guidance.
Now the consultation lists four different types of manslaughter:
Unlawful Act Manslaughter
This is the most commonly prosecuted and results from deaths where there was no intention to cause serious injury. One punch manslaughter is the best example of these. The range here is 1 -24 years.
Gross Negligence Manslaughter
This arises when offenders breach of their duty of care towards the victim that their acts or omissions amount to a criminal act. We will be hearing much about this in the coming months. The sentence range here is 1- 18 years.
Manslaughter by reason of loss of self control
This arises if the offender, who would otherwise be guilty of murder by having the necessary intent, acted as a result of loss of self control, possibly as a result of serious violence. Possibly in a domestic setting. This clarified the manslaughter by provocation charge. The range is 3 – 20 years.
Manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility
This applies where other than a recognised mental condition the offender would be guilty of murder. The range is 3 – 40 years, but the Court will always consider a Hospital Order in this scenario.
Manslaughter by its nature is a difficult offence to sentence. The Judge has to identify the correct level of culpability where a life has been lost but where there was no intention to kill or even cause serious harm. It is of note that the average sentence for ‘one punch manslaughter’ in the last seven years is three years and ten months. This led to suggestions that the sentences were too lenient. One defendant received a sentence of nine months. It is of note the minimum sentence under the new proposals is twelve months. The Sentencing Council appear to be veering towards harsher sentences for this type of behaviour.
The average sentence since 2010 for Manslaughter by gross negligence is one of four years. The new guidelines are expected to be in place within a year. They will ensure that any sentences from the emotive prosecutions arising from Hillsborough and potentially from Grenfell will not be met with the same suggestions of leniency that previously may have been the case.
In the event of convictions let’s hope the sentences promote consistency and transparency which is after all the purpose of the guidelines.
Max Saffman – Criminal Defence Solicitor
Written by Max Saffman. Max is a specialist Higher Court Advocate and has extensive experience of the full range of criminal law cases including murder, manslaughter, firearms offences, robbery, rape, sexual assault and serious drugs conspiracies.