Health and Safety Fines to Increase

Health and Safety Fines to Increase

20/11/2014

Adam Kendall

Adam Kendall

Partner

A review carried out by the Sentencing Council has proposed that large organisations face tougher sentences for corporate manslaughter and fatal health and safety offences.

Tougher fines of up to £20 million for corporate manslaughter and up to £10 million for fatal health and safety offences have been proposed. The levels proposed are aimed at organisations with an annual turnover of more than £50 million.
The proposals follow a series of developments this year which have seen the Court of Appeal review the principles of sentencing corporate offenders in health and safety and environmental offences, reiterating the importance of identifying a level of fine that achieves the aims of sentencing given the financial circumstances of the offender in question, and the publication of guidance by the Council on environmental offences.  In addition, when the relevant provisions are in force, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 will give magistrates the power to impose unlimited fines for certain offences, including health and safety and food safety and hygiene offences. Those powers will significantly change the fine levels magistrates can impose in cases covered by the draft guidelines. The Council is keen to ensure that guidance is in place to assist magistrates in applying fair and proportionate sentences when their new fining powers come into effect.

The draft guidelines, now subject to public consultation, follow a "lack of comprehensive guidance" for sentencers in relation to these offences, which are not sentenced as frequently as other criminal offences. The Council therefore concluded there was a need for expanded guidance on dealing with the difficult issues that arise in these cases, such as the risk of harm, or fining offenders that are charitable or public bodies.  Fine levels, the council says, should be large enough to have an economic impact that will bring home to an organisation the importance of operating in a safe environment (taking into account the impact of the fine on employment of staff, service users, customers and local economy, but not shareholders or directors).  Where the fine will fall on public or charitable bodies, the fine should normally be substantially reduced if the offending organisation is able to demonstrate the proposed fine would have a significant impact on the provision of their services.

Sentencing Council member Michael Caplan QC said the 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 consultation on the draft guideline on health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter, food safety and hygiene offences guidelines is open from 13 November 2014 to 18 February 2015. 

A copy of the consultation document can be found here.

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