08 Feb 2016
The Sentencing Council has published new guidelines for sentencing of health and safety prosecution cases which could have a massive impact on those who breach health and safety law. The guidelines, which come into force in England and Wales from 1 February 2016, apply to prosecutions taken under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974, the regulations made under the Act, as well as corporate manslaughter and cases taken under food hygiene legislation. The Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences: Definitive Guideline, detail a systematic approach for courts to use to decide penalties and will mean big increases in penalties for the most serious crimes. The guidelines apply to all defendants over the age of 18 years old and, while they come into force from 1 February 2016, they apply retrospectively to offences committed prior to 1 February 2016, but where the cases are heard after this date. In Practice For breaches by an employer of ss.2 and 3 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (that is, the duty to employees and non-employees) and for breaches of regulations made under the Act there is no limit on the fine when cases are heard either in the magistrates’ court (summary) or in the crown court (indictment). The guidelines give a range of fines of £50 to £10 million depending on the level of the offence. For those offences regarded as “very high culpability”, ie when there has been a deliberate breach, the path is opened up for very substantial fines. For individuals who breach ss.2,3 or 7 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 or the regulations made under the Act, there is also scope for unlimited fines and up to two years in prison on indictment and up to six months when heard summarily. For corporate manslaughter cases there is no limit on fines with guidelines suggesting a starting point of between £300k and £7.5 million for the most serious breaches, depending on the size of organisation. The guidelines also deal with cases relating to food safety and food hygiene law. By Stephen Thomas, Health and Safety Team Leader at Croner
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