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Sentencing guidelines start to bite big corporates

In the wake of the £5m fine imposed on the owners of Alton Towers, regulatory expert Vikki Woodfine, writes for Lexis Nexis about huge health and safety fines becoming the new norm.

The last few months have seen a number of large fines for health and safety breaches. What are the fines that have been imposed?

Since the introduction of the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences in February 2016 we have seen some significant fines being handed out by the courts. The sentencing guidelines are truly starting to bite big corporates and the upward trend in penalties for health and safety breaches cannot be ignored. In September 2016 alone we have seen six fines being handed down in respect of health and safety offences that were in excess of £1m. That works out at more £1m fines per month than the previous rate of £1m fines per year—prior to the implementation of the new sentencing guidelines. For reference, that now gives a total of 16 £1m plus fines which have taken account of the new sentencing guidelines (including three cases from the week prior to the implementation of the new sentencing guidelines).
What do these cases tell us about how the courts are interpreting and imposing the Definitive Sentencing Guideline, which came into force in February 2016?

There has been a clear increase in the number of £1m fines since February 2016. These cases show us that there has been a shift in the landscape in health and safety sentencing and the courts are now more than willing to give sentences in the £1m plus range, even where a death has not occurred. Non-fatal incidents are attracting these high fines which is something that we have rarely previously seen.

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Sentencing guidelines start to bite big corporates

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Vikki Woodfine

Partner - Head of Road Haulage & Logistics

Best known as the “Lorry Lawyer” I am also Head of the Road Haulage & Logistics group at DWF and specialise in health and safety defence work and road transport law.