Sentencing move aims to ensure health and safety crime doesn’t pay - Palmers Solicitors

Sentencing move aims to ensure health and safety crime doesn’t pay

Proposed sentencing guidelines have been issued for corporate manslaughter, health and safety, food safety and hygiene offences.

The draft guidelines, which were published on 13 November by the Sentencing Council and are now out to consultation, have been drawn up in response to a lack of comprehensive guidance on sentencing for such offences.

The Sentencing Council said that while guidelines were in place for corporate manslaughter and fatal health and safety offences, there was no specific guidance for food safety or non-fatal health and safety offences.

It added: “Existing guidance only covers offences committed by organisations rather than individuals. This marks the first time that guidelines will cover all the most commonly sentenced health and safety offences and food safety offences.

“Consequences of health and safety offences can hugely vary; they may pose the risk of minor harm or lead to multiple fatalities caused by deliberate breach of the law. Food offences are also wide-ranging. They could involve very poor hygiene standards in kitchens, or failure to manage processes involving the preparation of food properly.

“The council therefore concluded there was 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 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 said it wanted to ensure fines had “a real economic impact” and would bring home to offending organisations the importance of a safe environment. Sentencing levels in relation to lower level offences are unlikely to change.

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.”

The proposals include fines of up to £20 million for firms with an annual turnover of more than £50 million in the most serious cases of corporate manslaughter with penalties of up to £800,000 for micro firms, with a turnover of up to £2 million.

In the most serious health and safety cases, such as those involving a fatality, where there is a high degree of culpability by a business, maximum fines of £450,000 are proposed for micro firms and £10 million for the biggest organisations. The consultation closes on 18 February 2015.

Palmers partner Jeremy Sirrell, whose expertise includes representation in health and safety prosecutions, said: “As the Sentencing Council itself points out, these offences can vary hugely, so the scope of sentences must be flexible enough to deal with the most minor to the most grave incidents. These proposed guidelines are a timely reminder to businesses of how serious the consequences can be of failing to maintain health and safety standards at all times. For more information on how Palmers can assist with health and safety compliance or representation, please contact us.”