Following the Sentencing Council’s publication of the definitive sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food safety offences on 3 November last year, the guidelines are now in force (1 February) and apply to any case sentenced in courts in England and Wales on or after today’s date.
Described as the most dramatic change to health and safety legislation since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act in 1974, the guidelines have been introduced to give courts comprehensive guidance for these offences. They introduce a structured nine step approach that the Court should follow, so as to calculate sentences. This involves plugging culpability and harm factors into a series of tables to reach recommended starting point fines, as well as ranges of fines above and below the starting points.
They can involve highly complex cases that do not frequently come before the courts and therefore the Sentencing Council decided that existing guidance should be expanded and revised to ensure that fair and proportionate sentences are given to offenders.
It has stated that in some cases, the guidelines will result in higher penalties, although the council does not have any intention that the guideline should increase fines across the board, or that they will be significantly higher in the majority of cases to those currently imposed.
However, large organisations that have been convicted of the most serious offences, where they have flagrantly breached the law and created a very high risk of serious harm, or where serious harm has actually been caused, can expect to receive a fine proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and to their financial means.
Courts have been preparing for their introduction and a training pack has been produced by the Judicial College for magistrates and legal advisers to ensure they are familiar with this new approach to sentencing.
Dr Simon Joyston-Bechal a director at Turnstone Law summarised the changes for SHP. He said that the sentencing guidelines adopt a range of well-intentioned and apparently rational changes. He said however: “I am concerned the outcome will be very much more dramatic than intended, with much greater fines across the board and more individuals being imprisoned for offences that would not previously have been regarded as sufficiently serious to merit a custodial sentence.
“It remains to be seen whether these changes will improve prevention and save lives, or drive hazardous industries abroad and bring public perceptions of over-zealous enforcement to new heights”.