Newsflash: Sentencing Guidelines for Manslaughter Introduced
The Sentencing Council has published new guidelines for how offenders convicted of manslaughter should be sentenced in England and Wales. The guideline comes into force on 1 November 2018.
This is the first time that comprehensive guidelines have been drawn up for these very serious and difficult cases, which often have great variation in their factual backgrounds.
The Sentencing Council hopes that the guidelines will promote consistency and transparency in terms of how sentencing decisions are reached across the broad spectrum of cases. Previous guidance had been limited to a guideline for corporate manslaughter under the Council’s health and safety offences guideline, and an old guideline for manslaughter by reason of provocation, which did not reflect more recent legislative changes to the partial defences to murder.
The types of manslaughter covered by the guideline are:
Unlawful Act manslaughter – this is the most commonly prosecuted form of manslaughter and includes deaths that result from assaults where there was no intention to kill or cause very serious harm. 105 offenders were sentenced for this offence in 2016.
Gross negligence manslaughter – this occurs when the offender is in breach of a duty of care towards the victim which causes the death of the victim and amounts to a criminal act or omission. The circumstances vary greatly. In a domestic setting it could include parents or carers who fail to protect a child from an obvious danger. In a work setting, it could cover employers who completely disregard the safety of employees. 10 offenders were sentenced for this offence in 2016.
Manslaughter by reason of loss of control – This arises if the actions of an offender, who would otherwise be guilty of murder, resulted from a loss of self-control, for example arising from a fear of serious violence. 12 offenders were sentenced for this offence in 2016.
Manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility – Someone guilty of this offence would have been suffering from a recognised mental condition that affected their responsibility at the time of the offence, without which they would have been convicted of murder. 26 offenders were sentenced for this offence in 2016.
The Guideline follows a pattern familiar to recent guidelines issued by requiring judges to embark upon an assessment of culpability and harm (except for in diminished responsibility cases, where a judge must assess the degree of responsibility retained by the offender at the time of the offence).
By virtue of the very nature of manslaughter, will in “all cases … the harm caused will inevitably be of the utmost seriousness”.
Culpability is determined by reference characteristics which “are indications of the level of culpability that may attach to the offender’s conduct”; however, the guideline cautions against “overly mechanistic application of these factors”, and courts across the land can expect to hear that caveat submitted frequently in mitigation in these sorts of cases.
The Sentencing Council anticipates that the guideline will increase sentences in some gross negligence manslaughter cases. Where, for example, an employer’s long-standing and serious disregard for the safety of employees, motivated by cost-cutting, has led to someone being killed, the starting point under the new guideline is 12 years imprisonment, with a ranger of 10-18 years. This increase reflects the view that current sentencing practice in such cases is lower in the context of overall sentence levels for manslaughter than for other types.
Sentences for other types of manslaughter are expected to remain consistent.