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New Sentencing Council guidelines come into force

01 February 2016

From Monday, February 1 new Sentencing Council guidelines came into force to ensure health and safety breaches are fairly and proportionately punished, and will help to deter potential future offences.

Before this date, guidance for judges and magistrates has been limited for offences that can be extremely complex and serious. The changes will penalise companies that ignore health and safety, or do not follow procedures in order to save money. They will also bring penalties for health and safety offences into line with those for environmental and other corporate offences.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has welcomed new sentencing guidelines for criminal health and safety and corporate manslaughter cases that will see punishments increased for more serious offenders.

Dr Karen McDonnell, RoSPA’s occupational safety and health policy adviser, said: “These new guidelines will mean that, in some cases, offenders will receive larger penalties – particularly larger organisations that commit serious offences.

“Unfortunately, you occasionally hear of organisations deliberately breaking the law to cut corners with health and safety. It is our hope that the promise of harsher penalties will deter organisations from taking such risks with their employees’ lives in the future.”

The Sentencing Council says that increased penalties for serious offending have been introduced because, in the past, some offenders did not receive fines that properly reflected the crimes committed.

Now, as well as the severity of the offence, the culpability and means of the employer will also be assessed before fines are handed down.

Turnover is used to identify the starting point for a fine, but the guidelines also require the court to review and adjust the fine if necessary, taking into account factors such as profit margin, impact on employees, or the impact on the organisation’s ability to improve conditions. This means sentences will always be tailored to the offender’s specific circumstances.

The guidelines also include a range of mitigating factors which allow for voluntary, positive action to remedy a failure on the part of offenders to be reflected in sentences.

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