On 31st July, the Sentencing Council published new guidance on sentencing for manslaughter cases. The new guidelines will be retrospective, meaning they will apply to any gross negligence manslaughter cases not concluded before the 1st November deadline.
So why is this important to you?
Gross Negligence Manslaughter, where the breach of duty of care by an individual causes or significantly contributes to a death, is the most serious offence that an individual can commit for a health and safety breach. The new sentence guidelines show just how serious the consequences can be. It’s important that your business has the tools in place to avoid such action being taken against you, or your employees.
The guidelines propose four levels of culpability ranging from ‘low’ to ‘very high’, but all of which will result in some form of gaol time. For the lowest level of culpability, culprits can expect a two-year sentence, but this moves up to 8 or 12 years very quickly if a judge determines that new flashpoint features such as cost saving and disregarding very high risk of death, are met.
How is culpability decided?
As previously stated, there are a number of flashpoints or contributing factors that determine an individual’s culpability. For the most part, these are determined based on the level of the negligence, such as if more than one life was put at risk, or that warning were not adhered to.
A high culpability would meet a number of those factors and would result in a gaol term of over ten years. The most common factors are cost saving as a motivation for the breach, and blatant disregard for risk of death. Typically, if either of those two factors aren’t met, the culpability would be considered medium at most. This just shows how important it is that thorough checks are committed and that all risk warnings are actioned.
It is difficult to foresee what a judge would regard as ‘blatant’ disregard, so our advice would be that any disregard could fall into that category.
In cases where the culpability is considered ‘very high’, both cost saving and high disregard for death will be found. Sentences for this level of culpability range from 10 to 18 years.
Very high culpability cases range in type and scenario. Consider the case of Indian takeaway shop owner, Mohammed Zaman of Huntington, who was found guilty of the manslaughter of customer, Paul Wilson, after he had replaced almond powder with ground nut mix as part of a cost-cutting exercise. Zaman showed a blatant disregard for the safety of his customers by showing a ‘no-nuts’ message in his menu. He also triggered the cost-saving factor.
Another very recent and high profile case is that of Grenfell Tower. The investigation is still ongoing, but it is very possible gross negligence manslaughter sentences will be considered, given the repeated ignored warnings that the tower wasn’t safe, and the cost saving on the cladding.
We asked our Risk Director, Jane Dronsfield, what impact she thought the new guidelines would have:
“Following implementation of the Guidelines, we expect a rise in the sentences handed down in manslaughter cases, with lengthier, custodial sentences and fewer suspended sentences. The old guidelines allowed for a much higher degree of judiciary discretion, whereas the new guidelines seek to create a framework taking into account the culpability of the offender. Culpability categories are defined with reference to a number of factors set out in the Guidelines. Whilst a number of the factors would not necessarily be relevant in the context of workplace deaths, there are many factors that are common within many of the cases we see, which could potentially push offenders up through the category ranges. One example would be where the offender showed a blatant disregard for a very high risk of death resulting from negligent conduct and the negligent conduct was motivated by financial gain (or avoidance of cost).
We have seen a sharp increase in the number of individuals being prosecuted for health and safety related offences.
Gross Negligence Manslaughter is not just an offence that can be directed towards senior management in a business following a workplace death; any person can be implicated.”
If you’d like to speak to Jane, or any of our fantastic risk management department about how you can stay on top of your risk management, use the contact form on the top of this page. Remember, in gross negligence cases, inaction is a crime.