6th January 2016
H&S Sentencing Guidelines to Come into Force in February
We take a look at new H&S Sentencing Guidelines and just how severe the punishment might be for businesses. The potential fines go up to an eye watering £20 million for large organisations, but small and medium-sized organisations could also be liable for fines that may threaten their continued existence, not to mention imprisonment of the responsible person.
In what has been billed as “The most dramatic change in health and safety enforcement since 1974” The guidelines come into effect for all offences sentenced from1st February 2016, regardless of when the offence was committed, so before long we will start to see the effect on sentencing in terms of size of fine and/or length of custodial sentence.
The Sentencing Council says that the guidelines have been introduced to give courts comprehensive guidance for these offences. They can involve highly complex cases that do not frequently come before the courts and the council decided that existing guidance should be expanded and revised to ensure that fair and proportionate sentences are given to offenders.
It has stated that in some cases; the guidelines will result in higher penalties, although it does not have any intention that the guidelines should increase fines across the board, or that they will be significantly higher in the majority of cases to those currently imposed.
However, large organisations that have been convicted of the most serious offences, where they have flagrantly breached the law and created a very high risk of serious harm, or where serious harm has actually been caused, can expect to receive a fine proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and to their financial means.
Courts have been preparing for their introduction and a training pack has been produced by the judicial college for magistrates and legal advisors to ensure they are familiar with this new approach to sentencing.
Complying with the HSWA is something all organisations will be trying to do, above all to keep people safe. These new guidelines reinforce that desire by imposing a much stronger financial incentive in the form of higher penalties for non-compliance.
The guidelines can be found on the sentencing council’s website www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk