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New sentencing guidelines for corporate killing offences

5 March 2010

Following on from the news that the first corporate manslaughter trial is to be adjourned until October 2010 at least, it is worth discussing the new sentencing guidelines which have recently been published for sentencing of Corporate Manslaughter and Health & Safety Offences Causing Death. The guidelines can be found at www.sentencing-guidelines.gov.uk, some interesting points to note from the guidelines:

  • The guidelines do not just apply to Corporate Manslaughter – they also apply to health and safety offences, where the offence was a “significant cause” of death. It is not necessary to prove that death was a result of a health and safety breach to prosecute such offences. However if the prosecution can prove this anyway, it will result in a much larger fine.
  • The guidelines state that the starting point for a fine where a health and safety offence has caused death would be £100,000. For corporate manslaughter, the starting point should be £500,000, increasing to millions of pounds for larger companies. However, it could have been worse – the Sentencing Advisory Panel had initially recommended that fines be linked to a company’s turnover, with the starting point for a fine being 5% of the relevant figure.
  • The guidelines set out a list of factors which will contribute to whether the fine is reduced or increased from this starting point, including whether there has been cooperation with the prosecution, whether there have been any failures to follow previous advice, and whether  the company had a good health and safety record before. Added to this list are the questions of whether or not the injured person was from a vulnerable class (e.g. foreign workers), and the degree of participation of senior management in the breach.
  • The fine should be set at a level which is appropriate to a company’s means to pay – the sum which is fined is in no way intended to reflect the value of a human life.
  • Publicity orders, ordering that the fact that a company has been convicted of corporate manslaughter be publicised, should ordinarily be made when a company is convicted of that offence.

Ultimately, the real question is – will the continuing focus on increasing sentences for health and safety offences actually result in companies taking better precautions?

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