The Sentencing Council has released, on the 3 November, its long awaited guidelines that all criminal courts in England and Wales must follow when sentencing safety offences. They follow a public consultation which concluded in February this year to which there were 104 responses including from industry, lawyers and magistrates.

The guidelines will be applied to all organisations and individuals who are convicted of health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food safety/ hygiene offences, and come to be sentenced on or after 1 February 2016. This includes, therefore, offences already passing through the courts and which are not sentenced before 1 February 2016 and those which have not yet been charged by the prosecuting authorities. The Sentencing Council has chosen not to cover fire safety in these guidelines on the basis that “…applying the factors in the guideline to offences involving risk of fire had the potential for distorting sentence levels.”

The Sentencing Council’s aim is for the guidelines to ensure a more consistent, fair and proportionate approach to sentencing organisations and individuals convicted of these offences. The headlines will undoubtedly be that the “top end” for fines in the most serious corporate manslaughter and health and safety offences have moved to £20 million and £10 million respectively, which is a very significant increase on what was provided for in the previous guidelines for these offences.

In detail, the guidelines provide for a “stepped approach” to sentencing with courts first being required to determine the offender’s level of culpability and the risk of harm created by the offence. These then feed into starting points and a suggested range of sentence that should be applied. The result is that the starting point in the guidelines for fines where a “large” organisation (defined as one having a turnover in excess of £50 million) falls to be sentenced for a health and safety offence resulting in a fatality for which it is found to have a medium level of culpability is set at £1.3 million with a range of fine of between £800,000 and £3.25 million. For a “small” company (defined as having a turnover of between £2 million and £10 million) sentenced for the same offence, the suggested starting point is £160,000 with a range of between £100,000 – £600,000. Individuals convicted of health and safety offences face a threshold for imprisonment set at medium level culpability (negligence).

Please click here to view the full copy of the guidelines.

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