Although the highest sentences are going to apply to individuals whose disregard of safety was motivated by cost saving and where there is a “blatant disregard for a very high risk of death”, for medium culpability cases the sentencing will still rise.

The new rules come into force for sentences imposed from 1 November 2018, but it is retrospective in that it will apply to existing cases that have not concluded before that date.

Employers or managers convicted of gross negligence manslaughter after a workplace fatality are likely to face longer prison sentences under a new guideline published by the Sentencing Council.

Applying to sentences delivered in England or Wales on or after 1 November, the new guideline is an attempt to bring consistent sentencing to sentences for all forms of manslaughter, but the Sentencing Council says it is likely to have the effect of increasing sentences in gross negligence cases.

When the Sentencing Council analysed sentences for the 16 offenders convicted in 2014, it found custodial terms ranging from nine months to 12 years, with four suspended sentences.

Giving the example of an employer where “long-standing and serious disregard for the safety of employees, motivated by cost-cutting, has led to someone being killed”, it states that “current sentencing practice in these sorts of cases is [currently] lower in the context of overall sentence levels for manslaughter than for other types”.

The new guideline sets out four levels of culpability for those convicted, with the sentence range for “very high culpability” offences starting at 12 years’ in prison, with a range of ten to 18 years.

The “high culpability” category, with a starting point of eight years’ custody and a range of six to 12, would occur if there was a “blatant disregard for a very high risk of death” or the negligent conduct was motivated by financial gain, or the avoidance of cost.

For those convicted who are judged to have “lower culpability”, the starting point for sentencing is two years in custody, with a range of one to four years.

A spokesman for the Sentencing Council said that judges would still have the option of imposing a suspended sentence at their discretion.

The Sentencing Council’s examples of “lower culpability” include a “lapse” in otherwise good standards of care, the individual’s lack of maturity, or their subordinate role in a chain of command.

A fatal accident judged to be a “medium culpability” offence would be one where the factors involved fall between the higher and lower categories. It would have a starting point of four years in custody, and a range of three to seven years.

The guideline does not discuss the option of a suspended sentence. However, a spokesman for the Sentencing Council said that judges would still have the option of imposing a suspended sentence at their discretion.

Gross negligence manslaughter occurs when the offender is in breach of a duty of care towards the victim of a fatal incident, and amounts to a criminal act or omission. As an offence, it can only be committed by individuals in their own capacity.

Just ten offenders were sentenced for gross negligence manslaughter in 2016, according to the Sentencing Council.

Sentencing for corporate manslaughter, committed by organisations, is covered by the same guideline that addresses health and safety offences, published in February 2016.

In the longer term, it could also lead to longer sentences if charges of gross negligence manslaughter were to be brought following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

The guideline also sets out a culpability scale for manslaughter by unlawful act, loss of control or diminished responsibility.

Sentencing Council member Lord Justice Holroyde said: “Manslaughter offences vary hugely – some cases are not far from being an accident, while others may be just short of murder.

“While no sentence can make up for the loss of life, this guideline will help ensure sentencing that properly reflects the culpability of the offender and the unique facts of each case.”

In determining the final sentence, judges must weigh up other “additional elements” that featured in the case.

Being proactive and managing your workplace risks is the most effective way to reduce the risk of the negative consequences of poor health and safety management.

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