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Gross Negligence Manslaughter - Guidelines Update
Gross Negligence Manslaughter Guidelines Update
On the back of the updated Sentencing Guidelines for Health & Safety Offences (2016), the Sentencing Council has recently published new guidance on sentencing for manslaughter cases. The new guidelines will be retrospective, meaning they will apply to any gross negligence manslaughter cases that were not concluded before the 1st November deadline.
What is 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. In a work setting, it includes employers who completely disregard the safety of employees.
So why is this important to you?
Gross Negligence Manslaughter 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’, all of which will result in some form custodial sentence. For the lowest level of culpability, culprits can expect a 2 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?
There are a number of flashpoints, or contributing factors that determine 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 warnings that were not adhered to.
A high culpability offence would result in a custodial sentence of over ten years. The most common factors in these cases are cost savings 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 at this stage to predict 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. Custodial sentences for this level of culpability range from 10 to 18 years.
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 within the Guidelines. There are many factors that are common within the reported cases we see, which could potentially push offenders up through the culpability categories. A prime example of this 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).
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 have any questions regarding this article or you want to speak to us about your management of risk in general, please contact us.