On 13 November 2014, the Sentencing Council  opened its 14 week public consultation on draft  guidelines for corporate manslaughter and health and  safety offences. If implemented, the guidelines will  mean that large organisations convicted of corporate  manslaughter may face increased fines of up to £20  million with those convicted of fatal health and safety  offences facing fines of up to £10 million.

The consultation arises from the Sentencing Council's  recent review of the current sentencing practices for  these types of offences. As a result of this review it  became clear that due to the relative infrequency with  which magistrates and judges sentence these cases  there was a lack of familiarity with them and some  inconsistencies in how various factors were weighted  and applied in reaching sentencing decisions. In  addition, the existing guidelines are only applicable to  corporate manslaughter and health and safety offences  committed by organisations causing death. Less  serious offences not resulting in death and those  committed by individuals are not covered. The draft  guidelines seek to address the entire range of  situations that these offences may apply to, to ensure  that both individual and corporate defendants are  covered and introduce consistency to the way in which fines are imposed.

The exact timing of the public consultation has been  influenced by a number of recent developments. These  include, the Court of Appeal ruling in the R v  Sellafield and Network Rail case in January 2014,  which reiterated the importance of identifying a level  of fine that achieves the aims of sentencing given the  specific financial circumstances of the offender and  the publication of definitive sentencing guidelines for  environmental offences in February 2014. Also, the  Sentencing Council hopes to ensure that guidance is in  place before changes to magistrates sentencing  powers, which enable them to impose unlimited fines  for certain offences, come into effect.

The draft guidelines adopt a similar formulaic  approach to sentencing as the guidelines produced  earlier this year for environmental offences. The court  is directed to work through a series of detailed steps to  identify the seriousness of the offence, with reference  to the level of harm and the culpability of the  defendant and the size of the organisation or means of  the defendant. This process is designed to enable the  court to identify an appropriate starting point and  range for the sentence. Factors increasing or reducing  the seriousness of the offence are then to be applied  before the court reviews the level of fine to be  imposed to ensure that it meets the overarching aims  of sentencing by reflecting the seriousness of the  offence and taking into account the financial  circumstances of the offender.

The consultation will close on 18 February 2015. A  copy of the consultation and details about how you can contribute can be found here.