Maximum sentence for gross negligence manslaughter are being extended to 18 years imprisonment under new guidelines form the Sentencing Council, set to come into force in England and Wales on 1st November 2018.
Gross negligence manslaughter is defined as when the offender is in breach of a duty of care towards the victim which causes the death of the victim and amounts to a criminal act or omission.
Previously there was only guidance for corporate manslaughter sentences.
The nature of manslaughter offences varies so much that judges have previously had to rely solely on their own judgement for sentencing. Now they have some guidelines for the different categories:
- unlawful act manslaughter – e.g. unintentional deaths that result from assault
- gross negligence manslaughter – e.g. breach of a duty of care
- manslaughter by reason of loss of control – e.g. spontaneous reaction
- manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility – e.g. suffering from a recognised mental condition.
The Sentencing Council is independent of the government's Ministry of Justice. It was set up to promote greater transparency and consistency in sentencing. It said that the new manslaughter guideline was not expected to change sentence levels for most types of manslaughter, but rather to enhance consistency and transparency.
However, it said that sentences were likely to increase in gross negligence cases where an employer’s long-standing and serious disregard for the safety of employees, motivated by cost-cutting for example, had led to someone being killed.
Current sentencing practice in these sorts of cases is lower in the context of overall sentence levels for manslaughter than for other types, it said.
Sentencing Council member Lord Justice Holroyde said: “Manslaughter offences vary hugely – some cases are not far from being an accident, while others may be just short of murder. While no sentence can make up for the loss of life, this guideline will help ensure sentencing that properly reflects the culpability of the offender and the unique facts of each case.”
Justice minister Rory Stewart said: “Manslaughter is an extremely serious offence, causing immeasurable pain to families who lose their loved ones. So it is vital our courts have clear, consistent guidance in these often complex cases – such as when both individuals and employers are involved. These guidelines will make sure sentences reflect the severity of the crime, helping protect workers and keep communities safe.”
The guideline can be accessed at www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk