Client Update - Corporate Manslaughter, Health and Safety and Food Safety – New Sentencing Guidelines Introduced

Last week the Sentencing Council announced new guidelines in corporate manslaughter, health and safety and food safety prosecutions. These will come into force on the 1st of February 2016. The  changes take place against a background where there have been an increasing number of prosecutions for health and safety violations.

The guidelines have been produced after a lengthy consultation which concluded earlier this year.

They will apply to individuals and companies prosecuted for corporate manslaughter and health and safety offences. Examples provided by the Sentencing Council for cases that the guidelines could apply to include incidents such as failing to provide the proper equipment at work causing the death of an employee, failing to provide proper training for operating machinery or a restaurant causing an outbreak of E. coli poisoning through unsafe food preparation.

In summary, the new guidelines introduce changes which mean that:

·         Custody thresholds are explicitly set out for individual offences. Where there is a deliberate breach – the highest degree of culpability – the guidelines recommend an immediate custodial sentence. For company directors, this could mean, in practice, a greater likelihood of prison should they be convicted of a relevant offence.

·         In cases said to be in the high harm category, negligent conduct could be enough to trigger a custodial sentence.

·         Higher fines for companies convicted of manslaughter and health and safety offences. Fines are now linked to the turnover of a defendant company and there is a significant increase in expected penalties. Larger companies, with a turnover in excess of £50 million, could face fines in a range between £1.5 million-£6 million, with a starting point of £2.4 million if convicted of serious health and safety breaches leading to a fatality.

Berkeley Sahota principal, Roger Sahota, in commenting on the new guidelines, said that

“With a harsh new sentencing regime now in place, those acting for companies and individual directors convicted of these offences will have to be vigilant in ensuring that the guidelines are correctly applied to their clients. I expect in future more cases will be contested and there will be lengthy arguments at the post- conviction stage as to where a corporate defendant falls within them.”

According to Sentencing Council member Michael Caplan QC:

“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.”

The guidelines can be found here.

Companies and individuals facing prosecution for regulatory offences should contact our London offices.