Corporate manslaughter fines should be up to £20m, says Sentencing Council

Fines for corporate manslaughter and health and safety offences should ensure ‘a consistent approach to sentencing’, says Michael Caplan QC, a member of the Sentencing Council.

Large firms convicted of corporate manslaughter will face fines of up to £20m under tougher sentencing guidelines proposed on Thursday.

Punishments for companies found guilty of health and safety, as well as food safety and hygiene offences should also be significantly increased, according to the Sentencing Council.

The recommendations are contained in draft guidance for judges in England and Wales that is being put out for consultation. Existing sentences, particularly in food supply cases involving large organisations, are felt to be too low to act as a deterrent. Fine levels, the council says, should be large enough to have an economic impact that will bring home to an organisation the importance of operating in a safe environment. The new guidelines are also intended to provide greater consistency in sentencing for offences that only occasionally come before judges and magistrates.

Corporate manslaughter and health and safety offences may involve incidents like a pedestrian killed by falling scaffolding, a gas leak caused by an unregistered gas fitter or an employee injured by faulty machinery. Food safety offences include outbreaks of food poisoning that are caused by a restaurant with poor hygiene standards or a takeaway that had a cockroach infestation.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, 133 people were killed at work in 2013/14 and 70 members of the public fatally injured in accidents connected to work.
There have been only four convictions for corporate manslaughter in England and Wales since the legislation was introduced in 2007. One of them involved a steel equipment firm that was fined £480,000 after one of its employees fell through a fragile roof. Another involved a £385,000 fine for a geological company whose deep pit collapsed crushing an employee.

The new guidelines suggest that judges should impose fines in relation to the size of the convicted organisation. For large firms, this could mean fines of up to £20m for corporate manslaughter and up to £10m for fatal health and safety offences. Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 there is no upper limit on fines.

The £20m fine level is proposed for firms who have an annual turnover of more than £50m.

Michael Caplan QC, a member of the Sentencing Council, said:

“We want to ensure that these crimes don’t pay. They can have extremely serious consequences, and businesses that put people at risk by flouting their responsibilities are undercutting those that play by the rules and do their best to keep people safe.”

“Our proposals will help ensure a consistent approach to sentencing, allowing fair and proportionate sentences across the board, with some of the most serious offenders facing tougher penalties. We want to make sure it is clear that it will be cheaper to comply with the law than break it. This is a consultation: we want people to give us their views on our proposals so sentencing in this area is fair, effective and proportionate.”