Corporate Crime analysis: Revised sentencing guidelines for corporate manslaughter, health and safety and food safety were recently published by the Sentencing Council. Dominic Watkins, partner at DWF takes a look at the changes, with a focus on food safety offences.
What's the background to these revised sentencing guidelines?
Food is one of the most highly regulated of all products and, given its relationship with our body, it is also potentially one of the most dangerous, if things go wrong.
What has been the approach the courts are to take to sentencing in this area? Are there any particular points of interest?
Courts have taken an approach that is consistent with other safety-based regulatory offences. Most defence practitioners take the view that this system works well. For some time however there has been judicial disquiet regarding the level of fines not being significant enough, particularly in the health and safety arena.
What is the significance of these new guidelines? What impact will they have in practice?
The guidelines create a clear nine stage process for sentencing, which sets out a clear and formulaic approach to sentencing and is welcomed. That process now requires the judge to determine, using guidance tables, the culpability of the defendant from low to very high and then determine the harm risked by the breach from one of three categories. These two factors are then plotted on a grid to determine a starting point of the fine and the fine range.
What steps should practitioners be taking when dealing with cases falling under these guidelines?
Review the sentencing guidelines and use the issues as a framework to ensure that the issues raised by the guidelines are being addressed.
Do you have any predictions for future developments?
Fine levels will rise from current levels--the guidelines make this inevitable. However, food safety standards in the UK are generally very good and there are actually relatively few food safety prosecutions--it is not anticipated that this will change matters and, if anything, the focus on removal of red tape and proportionate enforcement action suggests that the future should hold less rather than more enforcement action.