Tougher sentences for manslaughter

September 3, 2018
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Last year we reported how the Sentencing Council for England and Wales had launched a consultation on proposals on how offenders convicted of manslaughter should be sentenced in England and Wales.

New guidelines, to be used from 1st November 2018, have now been launched. The guidelines cover different types of manslaughter, (manslaughter by unlawful act, gross negligence, loss of control, diminished responsibility), from a health and safety point of view perhaps the most important are the guidelines for Gross Negligence Manslaughter.

Gross Negligence Manslaughter applies to individuals and 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.  Where an offence is committed by an organisation the Corporate Manslaughter guidelines would apply.

An individual convicted of Gross Negligence Manslaughter could receive a sentence of between 1 and 18 years custody depending on several factors:

The level of culpability (that is responsibility or blameworthiness) would be considered on a four-stage scale covering very high, high, medium and lower culpability. High culpability could be indicated by the negligent conduct being motivated by financial gain or avoiding cost while the negligent conduct being a lapse in an otherwise satisfactory standard of care would indicate lower culpability.

The starting point for sentencing a very high culpability offence would be 12 years custody, 8 years for high culpability, 4 years for medium and 2 years for lower. The court will then look at aggravating factors such as previous convictions and previous warnings that have been ignored and mitigating factors such as reasons beyond the offenders’ control, remorse, self-reporting and co-operation.

In a press release the Sentencing Council state that “Overall, the guideline is unlikely to change sentence level’s, but it is expected that in some gross negligence cases sentences will increase. This could be in situations where, for example, an employer’s long-standing and serious disregard for the safety of employees, motivated by cost-cutting, has led to someone being killed. Current sentencing practice in these sorts of cases is lower in the context of overall sentence levels for manslaughter than for other types.”

This serves as a reminder for directors and senior managers to set appropriate priorities in the management of their organisations.

The full guidelines can be found on the Sentencing Councils website at: