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health and safety breaches - what discount will I get for a guilty plea?

9 March 2017

The Sentencing Council have released their Definitive Guideline on the Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea, which sets out the approach to be taken by the courts. The guideline will apply to both individual offenders and organisations in cases where the first hearing is on or after 1 June 2017.

In short, under the new guidelines only those defendants who indicate a guilty plea on the first occasion will be entitled to the maximum one-third discount on their sentence. We all know that is often very difficult to achieve in complex health and safety cases.

The value of the guilty plea discount has never been higher. The rise in health and safety fines since 2016 has been headline grabbing. Is it worth risking the loss, or reduction, in the one-third reduction which on a seven figure fine is substantial?

Although the Sentencing Council did not go so as far as to carve out an exception for regulatory offences they have provided an exception that could provide a lifeline to some defendants but be warned it will not help everyone charged with a health and safety offence. It will be for the defendant to satisfy the court that the maximum discount should apply because it would be unreasonable to expect the defendant to indicate a guilty plea sooner. It is important to take early advice as soon as you are on notice of a prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and certainly as soon as the summons is received - the value of the discount is too important to risk losing it.

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