25th February 2010


 Issue No.  2010/08



 Corporate Manslaughter – Potential Penalties

Whilst we strive not to be labelled ‘scaremongers’  it is sometimes difficult to avoid, especially when we come across information that alarms us as much as it might alarm you.
In this update we pick out key details from the new guidance that courts will refer to when handing down sentences to those companies and organisations that cause death through a gross breach of care or where breach of health and safety requirements are a significant cause of the death.
New guidelines from the Sentencing Guidance Council (SGC) have been published which if followed by the courts could see fines for companies and organisations found guilty of corporate manslaughter running to millions of pounds.  The guidance says they should seldom be below £500,000. For other health and safety offences that cause death they indicate fines from £100,000 upwards. (Previously a percentage of company turnover between 2.5-10 % was being considered).
Publicity Orders compelling companies and organisations to publish statements about their conviction for corporate manslaughter, (details of the offence and the fine) are to be part of the penalty and the SGC in its guidance says should be imposed in virtually all cases.
We will have to see how the courts interpret these guidelines and put them into practice. When deciding the level of fine they will take into account the financial circumstances of the offending organisation but should not be influenced by the impact on shareholders and directors, or the costs of complying with other sanctions.
Other factors that could aggravate the offence and raise the fine above the relevant minimum level include the number of deaths and serious injuries caused; injury to vulnerable persons; failure to heed warnings or respond to near misses of a similar nature; cost-cutting; and deliberate failure to obtain or comply with relevant licences.
A salient comment from Council member and Vice President of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) seems to sum things up neatly:-
“…. these are serious offences and the fines must be punitive and substantial and have an impact on the company or organisation ….”
The message is clear and with the outcome of the first case going through this year we will keep you up to date with developments.
Naturally, we would urge all employers to reinforce the message to their key managers and staff that Health and Safety is to be seen as a normal and integral part of the job.  Making sure your safety arrangements are put to work is an important step in demonstrating compliance and discharging responsibility …. and hopefully avoiding prosecution.
If you need any help with getting this message across or with existing or new safety problems do call us on 08456 446006.




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The advice and comment in this update is not meant to be an authoritative statement of law. The articles and summaries should not be applied to any specific set of facts and circumstances without seeking further advice. Whilst every care is taken to ensure that the content is correct Sentient cannot accept responsibility for the accuracy of statements made nor the result of any actions taken by individuals after reading such.

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