According to the Sentencing Council, some offenders can expect to get higher penalties, particularly large organisations committing serious offences. Companies with a turnover of more than £50m can expect to be fined up to £20m for corporate manslaughter offences and up to £10m for the most serious health & safety breaches.
However, it is not anticipated that there will be higher fines across the board, or that they will be significantly higher in the majority of cases to those currently imposed, the Sentencing Council said.
Until now, there has been limited guidance for judges and magistrates in dealing with what can be complex and serious offences that do not come before the courts as frequently as some other criminal offences. The new guidelines, which are for England and Wales only, are much more comprehensive, the Sentencing Council said.
The guidelines also cover food safety and hygiene offences.
The increase in penalties for serious offending has been introduced because it was felt that some offenders had got off lightly. The council said it wants fines to be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the means of offenders.
The guidelines use the turnover of the offender to identify the starting point of the fine, but say that additional relevant financial information, such as profit margin, should also be taken into account.
While addressing remedial action with offenders is the responsibility of the Health & Safety Executive rather than the courts, the guidelines do provide for remedial orders to be made by the court in addition to or instead of punishment in cases where they may be appropriate. The guideline also includes a range of mitigating factors that allow for voluntary positive action to remedy a failure on the part of offenders to be reflected in sentences.
Sentencing Council member Michael Caplan QC said: “These guidelines will introduce a consistent approach to sentencing, ensuring fair and proportionate sentences for those who cause death or injury to their employees and the public or put them at risk. These offences can have very serious consequences and it is important that sentences reflect these.”