Sentencing Council New Guidelines for Manslaughter, Including Gross Negligence Manslaughter Introduced:
To: All Branches
The Sentencing Council has published new guidelines for how offenders convicted of manslaughter should be sentenced in England and Wales.
LTB 580/17 reported on the Sentencing Council Public Consultation on Gross Negligence Manslaughter and the CWU Response.
The CWU Health, Safety & Environment Department along with the TUC and other Unions have welcomed the new guidelines which increase sentences and establish consistency from all courts and judges. However, our response included reference to the rare cases where individual workers are convicted of Gross Negligence Manslaughter, and we stressed that those concerned should face less severe punishment than employers, directors and senior managers, if in mitigation, the evidence shows that stressful working conditions and repressive management contributed to their actions, or if their employer’s management organisation and procedures were inadequate. I’m pleased to report that our submission has been taken into account and the new guidelines state in the Gross Negligence Manslaughter Section, Factors indicating lower culpability, that: “The offender was in a lesser or subordinate role if acting with others in the offending.”
The Consultation Document (CD) did not include the charge of “Corporate Manslaughter” (Corporate Homicide in Scotland) which was introduced in 2007 and is a criminal offence committed by a company or organisation, for serious health and safety management failures, resulting in gross breach of duty of care, leading to a fatality or fatalities. The offence was created to provide a means of accountability for serious health and safety failures across a company or organisation. This offence is intended to work in conjunction with other forms of health and safety accountability and offences such as “Gross Negligence Manslaughter” for ‘individuals’ (Directors, Senior Executives and Managers etc.,) and other health and safety law offences. The Sentencing Council introduced new guidelines for those convicted of “Corporate Manslaughter” in November 2015 bringing in higher penalties, particularly for large organisations committing this and other serious health and safety offences. (See LTB Number 716/2016 and subsequent LTBs 142/2017 and 449/2017).
The CD stated that in 2014, 16 offenders were found guilty and sentenced for Gross Negligence Manslaughter. All of them were sentenced to imprisonment with custodial terms ranging from 9 months to 12 years, 4 of which were suspended sentences. The average was 4 years.
The Sentencing Council has now published its definitive new guidelines to Courts on how offenders convicted of manslaughter should be sentenced in England and Wales and this is the first time that guidelines have been drawn up for these very serious and difficult cases which include workplace fatalities caused by employers’ gross negligence.
The publication marks the first time that comprehensive guidelines have been drawn up for these very serious and difficult cases, which could range from an unintended death resulting from an assault, to a workplace fatality caused by a negligent employer.
The serious nature of manslaughter, combined with the great variation in cases, and the fact that cases do not come before individual judges very frequently, means the introduction of guidelines will be particularly useful in promoting consistency in sentencing and transparency in terms of how sentencing decisions are reached.
Overall, the guideline is unlikely to change sentence levels but it is expected that in some gross negligence cases sentences will increase. This could be in situations where, for example, an employer’s long-standing and serious disregard for the safety of employees, motivated by cost-cutting, has led to someone being killed. Current sentencing practice in these sorts of cases is lower in the context of overall sentence levels for manslaughter than for other types.
The types of manslaughter covered by the guideline are:
Unlawful Act Manslaughter – this is the most commonly prosecuted form of manslaughter and includes deaths that result from assaults where there was no intention to kill or cause very serious harm. It can vary greatly. For example, it could involve a situation where two friends briefly argue and one pushes the other causing him to fall and hit his head with fatal results. It could involve someone going out looking for a fight and attacking someone forcefully but not intending to kill. It could also include unintended deaths that result from other crimes, such as arson or robbery. 105 offenders were sentenced for this offence in 2016.
Gross Negligence Manslaughter – this occurs when the offender is in breach of a duty of care towards the victim which causes the death of the victim and amounts to a criminal act or omission. The circumstances vary greatly. In a domestic setting it could include parents or carers who fail to protect a child from an obvious danger. In a work setting, it could cover employers who completely disregard the safety of employees. 10 offenders were sentenced for this offence in 2016.
Manslaughter by reason of loss of control – This arises if the actions of an offender, who would otherwise be guilty of murder, resulted from a loss of self-control, for example arising from a fear of serious violence. 12 offenders were sentenced for this offence in 2016.
Manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility – Someone guilty of this offence would have been suffering from a recognised mental condition that affected their responsibility at the time of the offence, without which they would have been convicted of murder. 26 offenders were sentenced for this offence in 2016.
The guideline ensures comprehensive guidance where previously it was very limited. Until now, there has been a guideline only for Corporate Manslaughter, which comes under the Council’s health and safety offences guideline, and a guideline by the Council’s predecessor body for manslaughter by reason of provocation, which is now out of date following legislative changes to the partial defences to murder.
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 hopefully help ensure sentencing that properly reflects the culpability of the offender and the unique facts of each case.
Manslaughter is an extremely serious offence, causing immeasurable pain to families who lose their loved ones. So it is vital our courts have clear, consistent guidance in these often complex cases – such as when both individuals and employers are involved. These guidelines aim to make sure sentences reflect the severity of the crime, helping protect workers and keep communities safe.
A copy of the new Sentencing Guidelines is attached.
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer