The first conviction of a care provider for corporate manslaughter highlights the increasing vulnerability of corporate entities to criminal prosecution. It is imperative that organisations seek immediate legal advice when such incidents occur in the workplace, in order to put themselves in the best position to deal with any recriminations and protect their business.

Autumn Grange

On 5 February 2016, Sherwood Rise Ltd (Sherwood), the first care provider to be convicted of corporate manslaughter, was ordered by Nottingham Crown Court to pay fines of £300,000 and prosecution costs of £41,500. In addition, Yousaf Khan, one of Sherwood’s directors, was jailed for three years and two months after pleading guilty to gross negligence manslaughter.

The convictions relate to the death of 86-year-old Ivy Atkin (Mrs Atkin) who died a few days after she was moved out of Autumn Grange, the care home owned by Sherwood. When she left Autumn Grange, Mrs Atkin was found to be dehydrated, malnourished and with an untreated bed sore.

New offences and sentencing guidelines

Over the past few years the care sector has been subject to increased media scrutiny in relation to the accountability of inadequate care providers. As a result, new offences of ill-treatment and wilful neglect were introduced by the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 to cover previous gaps in the legislation and extend the offences to include care providers and their directors as well as care workers.

In addition, new sentencing guidelines published by the Sentencing Council (the Guidelines) apply to all offenders sentenced on or after 1 February 2016. The Guidelines contain a nine step process for: determining the seriousness of the offence, including the harm and culpability involved; identifying the relevant starting point and range of any fine, including any aggravating or mitigating factors; assessing proportionality and any relevant reductions; and establishing whether any compensation, publicity order or remediation is necessary.

The Sentencing Council take the view that, prior to 1 February 2016, fines imposed in relation to certain health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences were too lenient. As a result, fines must now be sufficiently substantial to have a “real economic impact” on the organisation in question. In light of this, the offence of corporate manslaughter now carries an unlimited fine.

Wider impact

While Sherwood’s conviction is the first of its kind, it will certainly not be the last. Along with the introduction of new offences and significantly higher financial penalties, the decision in Sherwood may well signify the start of a tougher stance against poor care providers, with the potential for an increasing number of them to find themselves the subject of a criminal prosecution.