Corporate manslaughter sentencing guidelines published for consultation

Fines for organisations found guilty of the new offence of corporate manslaughter will not be linked to profit or turnover but nevertheless should “seldom” be below half a million pounds.

The long-awaited draft guidelines on sentencing for the offence were published yesterday by the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC), which, in addition to the financial penalty, proposes sanctions in the form of a publicity order and/or remedial order, where appropriate.

In a letter to consultees, SGC chair Lord Judge explained why the Sentencing Advisory Panel’s (SAP) original proposal for fines to be between 2.5 and 10 per cent of the offending organisation’s annual turnover was rejected: “The Council concluded that [this] approach could inadvertently risk an unfair outcome, was particularly difficult to apply to public and third-sector bodies, was likely to create a perverse incentive to adjust corporate structure to avoid the proper consequences of offending, and so did not provide the most effective way of assessing the level of fine across such a wide range of situations.”

Instead, the Council is now proposing a level below which a fine “would not normally be expected to fall” – £500,000 – adding that fines “may be measured in millions of pounds”. Courts will also be able to require the offending organisation to advertise the fact of its conviction, failure to comply with which will result in a further, unlimited fine. The content of the Publicity Order will be suggested to the court by the enforcing authority or prosecution, and its aim is to ensure that the conviction becomes known to shareholders, customers and local stakeholders.

The option to impose a Remedial Order, setting out the steps to be taken to address the failures that led to the death(s), is also available and is designed to ensure that any deficiencies in the organisation’s health and safety policies and systems are dealt with.

The guideline also covers work-related health and safety offences that result in a death, stating that fines in cases where a causative link has been established between what happened and the death that occurred “should seldom be less than £100,000 and may be measured in hundreds of thousands of pounds, or more”.

The consultation ends 5th January 2010.  Full details can be found on the Sentencing Guidelines Website.

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