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New sentencing for gross negligence manslaughter

Stuart Spear12/07/2017 - 16:53

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Sentencing Council focuses on manslaughter
Sentencing Council focuses on manslaughter

An employer found guilty of the most serious form of gross negligence resulting in an employee’s death could face up to 18 years in jail under new guidelines being drawn up by the Sentencing Council.

The new draft guidelines attempt to address what is seen as more lenient sentencing of employers that result in a death along with a lack of sentencing consistency when compared to other forms of manslaughter.

The proposal is part of 14-week consultation covering four distinct types of manslaughter: unlawful manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter, manslaughter by loss of control and manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.

Gross negligence manslaughter is when the offender is in breach of a duty of care towards a victim who dies as a result. This can vary from parents and carers in a domestic setting to employers who completely disregard the safety of employees. It could also apply to a medical practitioner who seriously fails in their treatment of a patient. 

The consultation states that in 2014 there were 16 prosecutions for manslaughter by gross negligence, all receiving custodial sentences ranging between nine months to 12 years, four of which were suspended. The median sentence was four years.

The crime of corporate manslaughter was covered by last year’s health and safety offences guidelines. Corporate manslaughter covers a case of homicide committed by a company or organisation whereas gross negligence manslaughter covers that criminal actions of an individual. 

The new consultation addresses what is seen as a lack of adequate guidance when it comes to other forms of manslaughter including gross negligence.

‘Manslaughter always involves the loss of a human life and no sentence can make up for that loss. In developing these guidelines, we have been keenly aware of the impact caused by these offences and so the guidelines aim to ensure sentencing that properly reflects both the culpability of the offender and the seriousness of the harm which has been caused,’ said Sentencing Council member Mr Justice Holroyde. 

While the new guidelines are not, in most cases, expected to result in longer sentencing the Sentencing Council has pointed out that when it comes to gross negligence cases involving employers the tariff is expected to increase.  

One specific example would be where a death has been caused by an employer’s long standing and serious disregard for the safety of employee’s which was motivated by cost cutting.   

The sentencing range for anyone found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter is from one year to 18 years custody depending on their level of culpability.

For example, someone found guilty of category B culpability, the second highest, would have been motivated by financial gain, been aware of the risk, been in a dominant position and the offence would have been carried out over a long period of time.

Sentencing for category B culpability is between six and 12 years in prison. 

The consultation opened on 4 July and closes on 10 October 2017.

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