New sentencing guidelines proposed for corporate manslaughter, health & safety and food safety offences
The Sentencing Council for England and Wales issues guidelines on sentencing which the Courts must follow in the vast majority of cases they deal with. The aim is to promote greater transparency and consistency in sentencing. Until now there has been no definitive guideline for health and safety and food safety offences, but on 13 November 2014 the Council issued draft guidelines for consultation, the consultation closing on
18 February 2015.
When publishing its proposals, the Council noted that, “some sentences imposed for these offences have been too low, particularly in relation to large organisations convicted of the most serious health and safety and food safety offences.” They went on to say that the aim was to help ensure that sentences not only punished the offender, but deterred them and others from committing these crimes and removed any financial benefit they may have had from offending.
Whilst we await the publication of the definitive guideline, the Courts are already starting to reflect the view that sentences for such offences must be a lot tougher, as has been the effect of the introduction of The Environmental Offences Definitive Guideline introduced last year. This has resulted, for instance, in cases in which fines of hundreds of thousands of pounds have been imposed on various utilities companies. You may also have seen the case in which the managed pub operator, Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) was fined £1.5 million and a pub manager and chef were imprisoned for falsifying food safety records after an outbreak of food poisoning, which led to the death of a customer.
As Sentencing Council member Michael Caplan QC said in introducing the draft guidelines, “We want to ensure that these crimes don’t pay”. The clear message is that breaching health and safety and food safety laws is now going to become more expensive and fines may also be at a level that jeopardises the viability of a business. More than ever, therefore, it is important that, when facing an investigation by a regulator, legal advice is obtained at an early stage.