Tougher Sentencing Guidelines Imminent

Tougher Sentencing Guidelines Imminent

  • Date: Friday 27th November 2015

Sentencing guidelines for corporate health and safety offences are imminent and the message is clear: companies that break the law will need to be prepared for significant increases in fines.

The Guidelines apply to companies or individuals (aged 18 and older) who are sentenced on or after 1 February 2016, regardless of the date of the offence. The stated intention is to increase the level of fines for serious offences, especially for larger companies. More worryingly junior employees, managers and directors could be handed custodial sentences due to a significantly lower threshold for imprisonment. 

The Guidelines set out a number of steps that the sentencing court will need to go through to establish the appropriate fine:

1. The category of offence will need to be determined. This is based on two stages, the level of culpability and the level of harm.

2. Starting points (which apply to all offenders, whether they have pleaded guilty or been convicted after trial) define the position within a category range from which to start calculating the provisional sentence.

3. The court is required to focus on the organisation's annual turnover or equivalent to reach a starting point for a fine.

4. The court then consider further features of the offence including aggravating and mitigating factors.

Very Large Organisations

It was proposed that a proportionate multiplier be included when imposing fines for very large organisations (i.e. those with turnovers greater than £50 million). In this way a large organisation that commits an offence with the greatest exposure to harm (e.g. workplace death) and with high culpability will see a sentencing range of £4.8 million - £20 million with a starting point as high as £7.5 million. Large food operators committing a food safety offence with serious adverse effects on human health and high culpability could see a sentencing range of £500,000 - £3 million.

Individuals that commit serious offences with high culpability could expect custodial sentences or serious fines where profit was a motivating factor in the commission of the offence.

Medium Sized Organisations

In the case of a medium sized organisation with a turnover between £10 – 50m, committing a medium culpability case involving serious (category 1) harm e.g. an employee crushed by a reversing lorry where there was inadequate pedestrian segregation. Application of the matrices gives a ‘starting point’ of £540,000 with the bracket ranging from £300,000 to £1,300,000. This is significantly greater than many recent fines given for similar offences.

Final Words

The message in the Guidelines is clear; 'the fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health and safety legislation.

If you would like further advice on these guidelines please contact SSG.

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