A new sentencing regime has been introduced to ensure firms found to have caused death, illness or injury face tougher punishments.
The comprehensive guidelines for magistrates and judges, published by the Sentencing Council, will be used for businesses implicated in the most serious corporate manslaughter, health and safety and food hygiene cases.
For example, a construction company that causes the death of an employee by not providing the proper equipment for working at height is an offence that falls under the framework.
A restaurant that causes an outbreak of E.coli poisoning through unsafe food preparation is another.
Fair and proportionate
Prison sentences cannot be given for offences committed by organisations. Fines are the only option.
The Sentencing Council says the increase in penalties for serious offending has been introduced because in the past, some offenders did not receive fines that properly reflected the crimes they committed.
While it does not anticipate an increase in penalties across the board, higher fines are possible in some cases – particularly those involving large organisations found to have committed serious offences.
The Council wants fines for such offences to be fair and proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the means of offenders.
Range of sentences
The guidelines set out sentencing ranges that reflect different levels of risk of harm.
Corporate manslaughter always involves at least one death; health and safety breaches can pose a minor risk or lead to multiple fatalities; plus food offences can range from poor hygiene or preparation standards in a restaurant kitchen that cause illness, to failings that lead to fatal food poisoning.
Health and safety breaches are expected to result in fines of £50 to £10 million, while corporate manslaughter is expected to attract fines of £180,000 to £20 million. Fines for food safety and hygiene offences are likely to be £100 to £3 million.
But the offences can attract an unlimited fine under the guidelines, so there is the potential for even bigger fines.
The turnover of an offending firm will be used as a starting point when calculating the size of the fine.
Source: Sentencing Council
Date Published: November 6, 2015
Author: Jonathan Brown