New Sentencing Guidelines for Corporate Manslaughter, Health and Safety and Food Safety

Written 6th November 2015 by Olliers Solicitors

The tabloid press have, in the past, highlighted health and safety regulation gone mad, wrapping us up in cotton wool and stopping autumn conkers games. However, when injury occurs due to a business’ deliberate acts or a restaurant’s hygiene puts us at risk of illness we all wish to see the property enforcement of the law.

Sentencing Criminal Offences

On the 3rd November the sentencing council published new definitive guidelines for use in England and Wales on health and safety offences, as well as corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences.  These guidelines will apply to those over 18 who are sentenced by the courts on or after the 1st February 2016. Once in force these guidelines will apply regardless of the date of the offence.

These criminal offences do not often appear in the courts but can carry heavy penalties due to the harm or risk of harm caused. The law is complex and legal advice is essential for the consideration of plea and if a conviction follows for guidance through the sentencing process to achieve the best outcome.

Sentencing guidelines are developed to help judges and magistrates decide upon the sentence for those convicted or criminal offences. The guidelines provide a framework for sentencers to work with. A thorough knowledge of the guidelines enables advocates to properly advise and represent their clients.

The maximum penalty for these offences is fixed by statue created by parliament. The guidelines are produced to help ensure that courts across England and Wales have a consistent approach. This does not mean that defendants receive the same sentence; each defendant will be sentenced according to the particular features of their case and personal mitigation. For the offences covered here the offender will sometimes be an organisation rather than an individual and therefore the sentence can vary widely dependent upon the nature of the institution.

Sentencing – Corporate Manslaughter

The guidelines take sentencers through a series of issues in an ordered manner as can be seen in the guidance for the offence of corporate manslaughter. The maximum penalty is an unlimited fine but step one is to assess seriousness. Very obviously the consequence is serious but elements such as how foreseeable the fatality was and whether recognised standards have been followed should be noted to determine the category of offence. Step two directs the court to focus on the organisation’s annual turnover to reach a starting point which is then adjusted up or down depending on aggravating and mitigating factors such as the exploitation of vulnerable victims or a good health and safety record. Next, at step three, the court must look at the proportionality of the proposed fine to the overall means of the offender. This however is not the end of the assessment. In six more stages the court must also take account of such factors as the impact of the proposed fine on the ability to improve conditions in the organisation and on employment of staff, any reduction for a guilty plea and linked issues of remediation and compensation. The court must then look at whether the sentence is just and has a duty to give reasons and explain the effect of the sentence.

Sentencing Council member Michael Caplain QC said:

“These guidelines will introduce a consistent approach to sentencing, ensuring fair and proportionate sentences for those who cause death or injury to their employees and the public or put them at risk. These offences can have very serious consequences and it is important that sentences reflect these.”

Olliers Solicitors – Specialist Criminal Defence Lawyers

Written by Martha Whitehead, Solicitor. Martha specialises in the defence of allegations of sexual offending, large scale MTIC/carousel fraud, money laundering and drugs operations. She utilises a consistent approach to detail, the ability to analyse large volumes of data,  and the ability to work with a variety of other professionals to present clear advice to clients.

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