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Lawyers prepare for gross negligence manslaughter guidelines

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New sentencing guidelines for gross negligence manslaughter offences will result in higher jail sentences when they come into force in November, a senior health and safety lawyer has predicted.


Speaking at the Health and Safety Lawyers’ Association’s summer event on 12 July, Dominic Kay QC, said we will see a ‘significant change’ in the average sentences meted out for gross negligence in a workplace context, after guidelines for the first time will give judges a step-by-step approach for sentencing manslaughter offences for health and safety.

“Prosecutors want to pitch cases as high as they can for all sorts of reasons, if that happens in a manslaughter case, [and if the judge decides they are] higher category A culpability cases, then potentially there will be very significant penalties indeed,” he said.

He added that major, upcoming cases could also impact on sentencing for gross negligence manslaughter. “The high profile nature of Hillsborough, Grenfell, Didcot will put manslaughter back into the spotlight,” he said.

The Sentencing Council’s draft guidelines, published in July 2017 for consultation, cover four types of manslaughter; unlawful act manslaughter, manslaughter by reason of loss of control, manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility and gross negligence manslaughter. This latter is for the work setting, applying to employers who ‘completely disregard the safety of employees’.

Proposals are for judges to use culpability to determine the punishment. There are four levels, from D to A – low (D), medium (C), high (B) and very high (A) culpability – each with different jail term ranges and a new maximum jail term of 18 years.

Judges will for the first time have step-by-step guidelines to consult when sentencing for gross negligence manslaughter cases. Photograph: iStock

The average sentence length in 2014 was four years, which is just the starting point for medium culpability under the draft proposals.

Kay added that from his own analysis of sentences passed from 2008 to 2016, the standard sentence for gross negligence in a workplace context was ‘two years, often suspended’. “The new sentencing guidelines for gross negligence manslaughter will make a significant change,” he said.

The Sentencing Council’s guidelines will be followed by judges sentencing across England and Wales. Guidelines for health and safety offences, corporate manslaughter and food safety and food hygiene offences (Definitive) have been in force since February 2016.

The final guidelines are expected to be published on 31 July and come into force from 1 November: www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk

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