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New guidelines likely to see stiffer sentences

New guidelines for sentencing in cases involving health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene offences have been issued.

The changes are likely to see higher fines and, in the most serious cases, potentially longer prison sentences handed out to those convicted of offences.

What has happened?

The Sentencing Council has issued definitive guidelines to help courts decide suitable sentences for individuals and companies convicted for the most common offences involving health and safety, corporate manslaughter and food safety and hygiene.

The new guidelines will come into force on 1 February 2016 and will cover all cases sentenced after this date, regardless of when the offences were committed.

What does this mean?

Previously, courts had less information and fewer precedents to rely on when handing out sentences covering these areas and so tended to err on the side of caution.

However, the introduction of definitive guidelines is likely to mean that fines and jail sentences will both be increased.

In some cases, the guidelines see fines of between three and four times as much for offences previously sentenced.

For a number of offences committed by companies or organisations, the guidelines feature a sliding scale of fines based on the size of the organisation and its culpability in the offence – large organisations with very high culpability could face fines running into tens of millions of pounds, depending on the seriousness of the offence.

In some worst case scenarios, directors may find themselves held liable for an offence, which could result in prison sentences for those convicted.

What do companies need to do?

The stiffer sentences which these definitive guidelines map out mean it is more important than ever for companies, organisations and individuals to ensure their risk of prosecution and conviction for such offences is as low as possible.

The financial and reputational cost of convictions is now higher than ever so a thorough check of systems, procedures and policies covering health and safety, food safety and hygiene may be something which many businesses and organisations will want to consider.

How can Ward Hadaway help?

We can provide advice and assistance in a range of ways including:

Reviewing internal policies, risk assessments and method statements

Immediate post-incident consultation advice

Advice and assistance in relation to the management of an internal investigation

Advice and assistance in relation to the management of an external investigation e.g. Health and Safety Executive, Police, Trading Standards, etc

Advice and representation in any subsequent interview under caution

Advice and representation at Court should a prosecution follow and proceedings instigated

For further information, please contact Stephen Graham in Ward Hadaway’s regulatory team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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