Manslaughter Law Update – A Review

The “Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences Definitive Guidelines” for courts in England and Wales was published in mid 2015 and came into legislation on the 1st February 2016.

We thought that’d it would be worth detailing some of the changes that affect employers, and their duty of care to the people that work for them.
As expected, the guidelines confirm that a dramatic increase in fines and for major companies convicted of corporate manslaughter these fines can be up to £20m under the new sentencing guidelines.
Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007, there is no upper limit on penalties. The £20m fine level will be for firms with an annual turnover of more than £50m, and up to £10m for fatal health and safety offences.
Fine levels, the Sentencing Council said, should be large enough to have an economic impact that would bring home to an organisation the importance of operating in a safe environment because existing sanctions were felt to be too low to act as a deterrent.
In addition the guidelines say that judges can send company managers or directors to prison for up to two years for any individual who is found guilty of a breach of duty to their employees in serious cases.
The guidelines will apply to all individual offenders aged 18 and older and to organisations who are sentenced on or after 1 February 2016, regardless of the date of the relevant offence.
Offences that come under the guidelines are very varied and could include a building firm that causes the death of an employee by not providing the proper equipment for working at height, a restaurant that causes an outbreak of e. coli poisoning through unsafe food preparation, a manufacturer that causes injury to a new worker by not providing training for operating machinery or a gas fitter whose sub-standard work leads to the risk of an explosion in someone’s home.
There have been eight convictions for corporate manslaughter in England and Wales since the legislation was introduced in 2007.
Sentencing Council member Michael Caplan QC said:
“These guidelines will introduce a consistent approach to sentencing, ensuring fair and proportionate sentences for those who cause death or injury to their employees and the public or put them at risk. These offences can have very serious consequences and it is important that sentences reflect these.”
Rod Ainsworth, Director of Regulatory and Legal Strategy at the FSA said:
“We welcome these guidelines. They will ensure that there is consistency in sentencing for food safety and food hygiene offences across the country. They will also ensure that offenders are sentenced fairly and proportionately in the interests of consumers.”
Following their publication today, the guidelines will come into force in courts on 1 February 2016.

These new guidelines send out a clear message to companies, directors and senior managers who either by connivance or ignorance allow staff to take unnecessary risks that could lead to someone being seriously injured or killed.

For me personally, I’d have liked the new sentencing guidelines to have also made allocation for people and organisations who knowingly provide less than lawful and accurate information to staff that can lead to an unnecessary injury or death.

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