On the 13th of November 2014, the Sentencing Council published for consultation draft sentencing guidelines for corporate manslaughter and health and safety offences.
The aim of the new guidelines is to focus sentencing more closely on the financial means of the offender, with turnover linked fines. The Council has recommended that for serious offences committed by large organisations higher levels of fines should be levied but for less serious offences and offences committed by individuals and smaller organisations, little change from current sentencing practices is proposed.
The Council has set out starting points and ranges for fines for larger organisations, which it is anticipated will result in an increase to levels of fines, currently determined by reference to the Sentencing Guidelines for Corporate Manslaughter and Healthy and Safety Offence Causing Death (published in 2010 after the coming into force of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007). Whilst turnover linked fines based on a percentage of annual turnover were considered as part of the consultation for the existing guidelines, the then Sentencing Guidelines Council chose not to adopt these proposals, which they considered could have unfair consequences and would be difficult to apply to certain organisations.
The new proposals, if adopted, would therefore mean a shift in the approach to sentencing for these types of offences. Whilst the courts already consider a company’s financial means when deciding on the appropriate level of fine, the new regime would mean a greater scrutiny of company accounts and financial performance, with specific starting points and ranges for fines based on turnover and other financial information. The draft guidelines propose that large organisations, which the Council defines as having a turnover of more than £50 million, could face tougher fines starting at £5 million and of up to £20 million for corporate manslaughter convictions and up to £10 million for fatal health and safety offences. Where a defendant’s turnover significantly exceed the threshold for large organisations, it may be necessary to move outside the suggested range to achieve a proportionate sentence.
The consultation document emphasises that fines should be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact on organisations to bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with legislation and achieve a safe environment for workers and members of the public.
The consultation closes on 18 February 2015.