New sentencing guidelines proposed for corporate manslaughter, health and safety and food safety offences.
The Sentencing Council has published proposed guidelines for judges and magistrates to use when dealing with corporate manslaughter, health and safety and food safety and hygiene offences for open consultation. The Council is seeking views on its proposals and is keen to receive feedback from people working in the criminal justice system or regulatory enforcement bodies as well as industry,
The draft guidelines cover offences that embrace a wide range of circumstances. The type of offenders that may commit these offences varies greatly and, with the exception of corporate manslaughter, there may not be a victim but there is still a broad spectrum of seriousness encompassed within each offence. The proposals seek to provide sufficient guidance to courts to promote a consistent approach to sentencing throughout England and Wales, combined with flexibility to ensure sentences are fair and proportionate to the seriousness of the case and the circumstances of the offender.
The guidelines are being introduced due to a lack of comprehensive guidance for sentencers in relation to these offences. While there is a guideline covering corporate manslaughter and fatal health and safety offences, there is only some general guidance in the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines and Court of Appeal authorities setting out general principles of sentencing for offences where there has not been a fatality. There is very little specific guidance for sentencing food safety offences and the courts will usually have to extract applicable principles from sentencing in cases involving health and safety and environmental offences. Existing guidance only covers offences committed by organisations rather than individuals.
Equally, these offences are not sentenced as frequently as other criminal offences, so the Council found that sentencers were not always familiar with how to deal with them. In 2013, approximately 420 offenders were sentenced for the health and safety offences covered by the draft guidelines, and approximately 280 offenders were sentenced for the food offences. It is evident that the offences covered by the guideline differ in a number of respects from the criminal offences more commonly seen by the courts and advocates will need to be able to assist the court with the concepts involved. However, the broad aims of sentencing are the same as for any other criminal offence.
The Council has therefore concluded that there is a need for expanded guidance on dealing with difficult issues that arise in these cases, such as those relating to the risk of harm, identifying appropriate fine levels for organisations, or fining offenders that are charitable or public bodies.
The review of these guidelines is also taking place in part due to concerns that some sentences imposed for these offences have been too low, particularly in relation to large organisations convicted of the most serious health and safety and food safety offences. The Council is therefore proposing to increase sentence levels in such situations. This will ensure sentences that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence while, as required by law, taking account of the financial circumstances of the offender. It is proposed that an offending organisation’s means will initially be based on its turnover as this is a clear indicator that can be easily assessed and is less susceptible to manipulation than other accounting methods. However, the guideline also requires the court to consider the organisation’s wider financial circumstances to ensure that fines can be properly and fairly assessed.
The Council’s aim is to help ensure sentences that not only punish the offender, but deter them and others from committing these crimes by removing any financial benefit they may have had from offending. These offences can result in organisations that maintain proper standards being undercut by offending businesses who are often motivated by saving money at the expense of safety.
Sentencing levels in relation to lower level offences are unlikely to change. This is because they are seen as already proportionate, and because fines must be based on the financial circumstances of the offender.
Sentencing Council member Michael Caplan QC said:
“We want to ensure that these crimes don’t pay. They can have extremely serious consequences and businesses that put people at risk by flouting their responsibilities are undercutting those that maintain proper standards and do their best to keep people safe.
“Our proposals will help ensure a consistent approach to sentencing, allowing fair and proportionate sentences across the board, with some of the most serious offenders facing tougher penalties.
“This is a consultation: we are interested in hearing feedback on our proposals so we can develop sentences which people understand and have confidence in.”
The consultation is available on-line and is divided into offence specific sections and respondents should feel free to comment only on sections of interest or relevance to them. A list of respondents will be published in the Sentencing Council’s response paper following the consultation. If respondents do not want their names to appear on the list, they should state this clearly in order for their response to be recorded as confidential.
The guidelines will cover sentencing for the following offences: Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013, regulation 19(1); Food Hygiene (Wales) Regulations 2006, regulation 17(1); The General Food Regulations 2004, regulation 4; Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA); section 33(1)(a) in relation to breaches of section 2, section 3 and section 7; and section 33(1)(c); and Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, section 1.
For more information on the Sentencing Council, to view the proposed guidelines and submit your feedback go to the website. (http://sentencingcouncil.judiciary.gov.uk) The consultation closes 18 February 2015.
1. The consultation runs from 13 November 2014 until 18 February 2015. Responses can be made online at www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to:
Office of the Sentencing Council
Royal Courts of Justice
The consultation is accompanied by a resource assessment and an equality impact assessment which can be found at www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk. Following the consultation, a response will be published on the Council’s website.
2. The guideline covers the following offences:
- Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013, regulation 19(1)
- Food Hygiene (Wales) Regulations 2006, regulation 17(1)
- The General Food Regulations 2004, regulation 4
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA); section 33(1)(a) in relation to breaches of section 2, section 3 and section 7; and section 33(1)(c)
- Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, section 1
3. Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless a judge or magistrate feels it is not in the interests of justice to do so. If a judge or magistrate believes that a guideline prevents the correct sentence from being given in an exceptional case, he or she can sentence outside of the guideline. Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation. When legislation changes guidelines are amended as appropriate.
4. The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but to be accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Select Committee. Ministers are also accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council’s effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence. Council members can only be appointed with the agreement of the Justice Secretary.