A review of sentencing guidelines could result in tougher penalties for individuals and organisations who flout health and safety regulations or breach food hygiene legislation.
The Sentencing Council is consulting judges, magistrates and other stakeholders on new draft guidelines for regulatory offences including health and safety breaches, food safety and hygiene offences, and corporate manslaughter.
The new guidelines incorporate a banding system for sentencing with a scale starting at 25 per cent of an offender’s weekly income and rising to as much as 700 per cent.
So what type of situations might these changes apply to?
Offenders vary greatly and each offence covers a broad spectrum of seriousness – with the exception of corporate manslaughter.
Offending organisations could range from family-run businesses to multinational corporates, and from public sector bodies to charities.
Health and safety offences cover everything from minor injuries to life-changing disability. Breaches also result in death. In 2013/14 some 133 workers were fatally injured in the workplace, according to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provisional figures.
Since the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 came into force, five cases have involved an individual fatality and smaller organisations. Nonetheless, the offence could equally apply to multiple fatalities involving large organisations.
Food safety and hygiene offences are equally wide ranging, covering food poisoning resulting from poor food hygiene and safety standards, as well as insanitary food preparation areas.
Impacts on health encompass relatively minor ailments to death. Food offences are also concerned with issues such as failing to keep documentation for tracing products back to suppliers.
As with health and safety breaches, food safety and hygiene offending encompasses a broad span of offending. At one extreme, a large food business may have repeatedly and deliberately broken the law; and at the other, a sole trader could be responsible for a one-off mistake.
When drawing up the draft guidelines, the Sentencing Council aimed to ensure all sentences are proportionate to the offence – and in relation to other offences.
As well as punishment and deterrence, the council is keen to ensure sentencing removes any economic benefit resulting from an offence. In other words, offenders will not be able to break the law on the basis that it is cheaper to reoffend than comply with legally required precautions.
Where organisations are concerned, the new guidelines follow the principle that the fine should have a ‘real economic impact’ which leaves management and shareholders in do doubt as to the overriding need to deliver a safe environment for workers and the public.
The consultation on the new proposed guidelines is open until February 18, 2015.
For more information on this matter, or any other legal issues involving regulatory bodies, please contact David Edwards on 01772 258321 or David.Edwards@harrison-drury.com