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fines to be measured in millions for offences of corporate manslaughter

10 February 2010

The Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) yesterday issued definitive sentencing guidelines which courts will have to take into account when sentencing organisations for corporate manslaughter offences or health and safety offences causing death.

Corporate manslaughter offences could incur a fine in the millions and will seldom be less that £500,000. Health and safety offences which cause death should see fines in excess of £100,000 and may reach hundreds of thousands of pounds or more.

Whilst a fixed correlation between fine and either turnover or profit is not appropriate, they will still be an important consideration when the court is determining the resources available to the defendant for the purposes of sentence. Defendants will therefore be expected to provide relevant accounts information for a three year period, including the year of the offence.

When assessing the level of fine, courts will not take into account the negative effect this may have on the directors or shareholders, nor the possibility that prices charged by the defendant might, in consequence, be raised. In particularly bad cases the fact that the financial penalty will have the effect of putting the defendant out of business will be an acceptable consequence.

However, the effect on the proper performance by statutory bodies of public functions may be relevant, as will a fine that has an effect on the proper provision of public services.

Factors likely to aggravate the offence and increase the fine include more than one death, failure to heed warnings and cost cutting at the expense of safety.

Mitigating factors include a prompt acceptance of liability, a good health and safety record and a high level of co-operation with the investigation, beyond that which will always be expected.

Publicity Orders are part of the penalty for corporate manslaughter as both a deterrent and punishment. They require the publication of the fact of conviction, the particulars of the offence, the amount of any fine and the terms of any remedial order.

A remedial order is also available for both corporate manslaughter and health and safety offences causing death. In practice, organisations are likely to have remedied any specific failings before sentencing takes place.

For further information or to discuss the potential effect of the new sentencing guidelines, please contact our health and safety expert Andy Hopkin.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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