The Sentencing Council’s impact assessment shows an increase in fines imposed on individuals and organisations of all sizes following the introduction the Definitive Guideline on Sentencing on Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety & Hygiene Offences
3 years after it came into force the sentencing Council has published a report assessing the impact of the introduction of the Definitive Guideline for sentencing Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety & Hygiene Offences.
Using data from the Ministry of Justices’ Court Proceedings Database, they have analysed sentences handed down in a sample period prior to the guidelines and a sample period following their implementation. The key findings for each category of offences are considered below.
Health and Safety Offences
- There has been a considerable increase in fine amounts for larger organisations.
There is no doubt that those hit the hardest by the introduction of the guideline are “large” and “very large” organisations. The scale of the increase can only really be seen by looking at the figures. The median fine for a large/very large company has risen from £25,000 pre-guideline to £370,000 under the guideline.
- There has been an increase (though to a lesser degree) in fine amounts for smaller organisations.
The sentencing council did not anticipate any increase to the fines for smaller organisations under the guideline. Albeit not as stark as the increase seen in larger organisations, medium sized organisations have still seen the median fine increase by five times from £20,000 to £100,000. Whilst the least effected of the categories, the median fines for Micro and Small companies have more than doubled from £20,100,00 to £45,200.
- For individuals sentenced for health and safety offences there has been an increase in higher fines.
Again, the sentencing council did not anticipate any change to the fines imposed upon individuals. However, under the guidelines more individuals are getting higher fines. The median fine for an individual has increased from £3,000 to £5,000. Whilst we are looking at smaller amounts the increase is still proportionately high and likely to be significant to an individual facing sentence.
- Individuals sentenced for health and safety offences have seen an increase in the use of suspended sentences.
The analysis suggests that some individuals who may previously have faced fines for health and safety offences are receiving suspended sentences. The increase is small (9%) but had not been anticipated by the Sentencing Council when preparing the guidelines. This is surprising given that 6 of the 16 offences covered by the guideline have custody as a starting point and 10 have custody within the sentencing range. The Sentencing Council speculates that it may be a short-term change, though they give no reason for doing so.
- More cases are being sentenced in the Crown Courts.
Previously just over half of all health and safety cases were sentenced in the Magistrates’ Courts but following the introduction of the guideline 55% of cases are being sentenced in the Crown Courts. As Magistrates’ Courts now have the power to pose unlimited fines, this may reflect a reluctance to deal with a potentially more complex sentencing exercise or a desire by defendants to have their cases dealt with by a Crown Court judge.
Food Safety and Hygiene Offences
- There was an increase in the fine amounts for organisations, although the increase was less pronounced than that for health and safety offences.
The mean fine imposed for food safety and hygiene offences has increased from £2,200 to £7,100. In implementing the guideline, it had been the intention of the Sentencing Council to increase the fines for larger organisations but they have been unable to determine whether the increase in fines has, as intended, affected just larger organisations or whether smaller organisations have also been affected.
- Individuals are receiving higher fines, however the increase was very small in such cases.
The Sentencing Council had not anticipated any increase to the fines for individuals. Whilst the analysis does show an increase it is, in context, small (the mean has increased from £930 to £1,300).
- Organisations sentenced for corporate manslaughter may have received higher fines.
An increase in fines for corporate manslaughter was anticipated and, tentatively, appears to be borne out by analysis. As there were only 10 cases considered prior to the guideline and there have only been 6 sentenced under the guideline, this finding was treated with some caution.
In short, as all those within the industry expected, the guidelines have led to an increase in the severity of sentences imposed across the board.
The expressed aim of the guideline was to “ensure that the levels of fines imposed for these offences were proportionate to the means of the offender and reflected the seriousness of the offence committed” which is policy-speak for larger fines.
Having analysed the content of the sentencing remarks of Crown Court judges in 71 health and safety cases following the introduction of the guideline, the Sentencing Council have concluded that the guideline was being applied in the manner intended. They also noted that there had been fewer successful sentencing appeals to the Court of Appeal since the introduction of the guideline.
Which means that, certainly in so far as the significant increase in fines for larger organisations, the guideline has had the intended effect. What the Sentencing Council do not appear to have anticipated, or possibly intended, was the effect that the guideline has had on smaller organisations and individuals. They have already indicated that they intend to investigate further the operation of the guideline and to consider whether any revision is necessary.