New guidelines announced by the Sentencing Council are set to have a dramatic effect on penalties handed down to organisations or individuals convicted of Corporate Manslaughter, Health and Safety, and Food Safety and Hygiene offences in England and Wales.

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 often as some other criminal offences. As a consequence, some offenders have not received fines that properly reflect the crimes they committed.

The guidelines are designed to ensure fines for these offences are fair and proportionate, reflecting the seriousness of the offence and the means of the offender.

In summary, the guidelines will allow the courts to take into account several components when imposing a fine including:

  • the culpability of the offender and whether they deliberately broke the law;
  • whether a high risk high risk of death or serious injury was created;
  • company turnover and profit;
  • the potential impact on employees; and
  • the potential impact on the organisation’s ability to improve conditions or make restitution to victims.

This means sentences will always be tailored to the offender’s specific circumstances.

While addressing remedial action with offenders is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) rather than the courts, the guidelines also provide for remedial orders to be made by the court in addition to or instead of punishment in cases where they may be appropriate.

Following their publication today, the guidelines will come into force in courts on 1 February 2016.

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