As you may be aware from our blog last year, the Sentencing Council has published guidelines for health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences for the first time.
The new guidelines replace the previous version which provided
that fines should seldom be less than £500,000 for corporate
manslaughter and £100,000 for health and safety offences causing
death. The previous guidelines also did not cover other health and
safety or food safety and hygiene offences.
The new guidelines are likely to result in significantly higher
penalties for organisations convicted of such offences and will apply
to organisations in England and Wales which are sentenced on or
after 1 February 2016 (regardless of the date of the offence) and to all
individual offenders aged 18 and over.
The guidelines do not apply to Scotland. A new Sentencing Council
for Scotland came into existence on 19 October 2015 but it remains
to be seen how they will approach the sentencing of health and
safety offences. Until Scottish guidelines are produced, it may be
that Scottish courts will refer to the new guidelines for England and
Wales. Similarly in Northern Ireland, although the guidelines are not
currently binding, the courts in Northern Ireland may refer to them for
guidance on sentencing due to an absence of their own guidelines
and the similarities in legislation.
The new guidelines were introduced for a number of reasons,
including the inconsistency in sentences being imposed by courts for
these types of offences and the fact that courts were often unfamiliar
with these types of offences and needed guidance. There were also
concerns that the sentences being imposed were too lenient, thus
failing to have any significant economic impact on the organisations
on which they were imposed.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 requires that fines must reflect the
seriousness of the offence and take into account the financial
circumstances of the offender and under the new guidelines – “[p]
articular attention should be paid to turnover; profit before tax;
directors’ remuneration, loan accounts and pension provision; and
assets as disclosed by the balance sheet” when determining the level
of the fine to impose.
The guidelines include a number of tables setting out starting points
and ranges for sentences for the various offences, for example, large
organisations (those with a turnover of £50 million or more) could
face fines of up to £10 million for health and safety offences, £20
million for corporate manslaughter, and £3 million for food safety and
hygiene offences. It will be at the court’s discretion to go above these
figures if they consider a case to be exceptional. This is significantly
more than the £100,000/£500,000 figures provided in the previous