Health & Safety Fines Increase – Sentencing Council Impact Assessment
The introduction of new Health and Safety Fines guidelines by the Sentencing Council in 2016 has been evaluated in a recently published ‘Impact Assessment’ from the Sentencing Council for England and Wales.
The Sentencing Council for England and Wales was set up to promote greater transparency and consistency in sentencing, whilst maintaining the independence of the judiciary. The primary role of the Council is to issue guidelines on sentencing which the courts, judiciary and criminal justice professionals must follow unless it is in the interests of justice not to do so. It also aims to increase public understanding of sentencing. The Sentencing Council is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Ministry of Justice and replaced the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the Sentencing Advisory Panel in April 2010. The Council also has responsibility for monitoring the use of its guidelines and assessing the impact of guidelines on sentencing practice.
The 2016 Health and Safety Offences guidelines resulted in an expected increase in fines for large organisations sentenced for health and safety offences. However there were also some unanticipated changes, according to the recent impact assessment from the Sentencing Council.
The Council found that in a 16-month pre-guidelines period, the mean (average) fine was £40,500 and the median (midpoint) was £12,000. In a 16-month post-guidelines period, these figures increased to £221,700 and £60,000 respectively – a 500% plus increase.
In the pre-guidelines period, around two-thirds of organisations received a fine of under £20,000 and only 17% received a fine of £60,000 or more. In the post-guidelines period, these proportions changed to 31% and 51% respectively.
The impact assessment also found an increase in fines for smaller organisations and individuals sentenced for health and safety offences, and a change in the use of some sentence types for individuals.
Fines imposed on organisations sentenced for corporate manslaughter have also increased since the guidelines came into force. The Sentencing Guidelines Council issued a steps based definitive guideline, effective from 1 February 2016, for sentencing the offence of corporate manslaughter. The recommendations of the guideline are based on the size and turnover of the organisations with a starting fine of £300,000 and a no limit maximum. Despite 25 convictions under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act (CMCHA) 2007 over the first 10 years of it being in force 2007-17, none have been of a large organisation and with fines linked to turn-over the fines have ranged from £100,000 to £1.2 Million. The operation of the guidelines is subject to a review and consideration as to whether any further revisions are necessary.
In conclusion, Health and Safety fines of one million pounds or above have become unexceptional nowadays and rightly so. An analysis of the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) enforcement statistics for last year has revealed the high level of fines companies now ‘routinely’ receive for health and safety breaches together with confirmation of the upward trend in the level of health and safety fines, imposed by both the Magistrates and Crown Courts. HSE data shows a total of 45 cases in 2017/18 where a fine of over £500,000 was imposed, with the largest single fine being £3m. There were 20 cases with fines exceeding £1m imposed by the UK’s criminal courts for the 12 month period to 31 October 2018.
- Sample of Recent H&S Fines
- Corporate Manslaughter Fines 2007-17
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer