Longer sentences for deaths from negligence

hammer and sickle

Tougher punishments are in store for employers whose lax safety standards lead to loss of life. 

This week, prison terms of up to 18 years have been proposed by the Sentencing Council of England and Wales as a fitting penalty for gross negligence manslaughter. This crime happens when someone fails in their duty of care towards another individual, resulting in their death.

New Guidelines

Until now judges have worked without set guidelines, and, in practice, the longest sentences only stretched to six to eight years. Some of those convicted were given sentences of just nine months. 

The new guidelines, up for consultation this autumn, recommend considerably harsher sentences, particularly in cases where offenders knew that their unsafe practice was likely to cause harm,

Punishment for cost-cutters 

The Sentencing Council spelled out the cases that should receive tougher punishment: “Typically … where an employer has had a long standing, utter disregard for the safety of employees and is motivated by cost-cutting.”

Employers responsible for fatalities should be punished at least as severely as those who cause death by dangerous driving, the Council noted.

Devastating loss

Developing their recommendations, Mr Justice Holroyde, acknowledged: “Manslaughter always involves the loss of a human life and no sentence can make up for that loss.”

It is positive to see the justice system re-examining the penalty for this crime and designing sentences that reflect the devastation of a needless death. In times of austerity, with constant pressure to drive down costs, employers and contractors should see this shift as a reminder of the weight of their responsibilities.

McCormack Benson Health and Safety consultants include specialists in range of industry sectors who can assist employers meet their responsibilities to all those in their care. They can provide detailed advice on putting in place best practice and systems to minimise risks to safety.