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New Sentencing Guidelines - Feb 2016

There are new sentencing guidelines covering health and safety offences and food safety offences in England and Wales.

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 or a manufacturer that causes injury to a new worker by not providing training for operating machinery or a company who have lone worker, one of  whom suffers a serious injury due to lack of risk assessment of their working activities .

Judges will be expected to calculate fines primarily on the basis of a convicted firm’s turnover rather than profits or assets. Given the stark difference between the present and future regimes, many of those currently subject to proceedings may be well advised to enter early guilty pleas in appropriate cases in order to expedite their cases. Sentencing under the current regime may be preferable.

Fines could exceed £10m for serious health and safety breaches or £20m in corporate manslaughter cases, and even more for very large companies. Individual company directors found guilty of "consent, connivance or neglect" in relation to the offence will  face potentially unlimited fines and prison sentences of up to two years, according to the guideline.

Courts will be required to assess the overall seriousness of the offence based on the offender's culpability and the risk of serious harm, regardless of whether any harm was in fact caused. The guideline also includes a non-exhaustive list of mitigating and aggravating factors that the courts can take into account when setting the level of fine.

Mitigating factors

  • No previous convictions
  • Good H&S management and H&S management systems
  • Company has taken steps to remedy the wrong and has demonstrated a particularly high level of co-operation with the investigation

Aggravating factors

  • Lack of H&S policy and risk assessments
  • History of relevant offences
  • Offence was committed for financial gain

 There are fears in some quarters that the new guidelines will greatly increase fines across the board, especially for very large companies.  More worryingly, more directors, managers and even junior employees may be handed custodial sentences due to a significantly lower threshold for imprisonment.

More information here:


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