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The Government is proposing tougher sentencing guidelines which will substantially increase fines in Health and Safety cases. Where large firms are convicted of corporate manslaughter, they could face fines of up to £20million. However, proportionally it is going to be smaller firms which are hit hardest.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was intended to be the answer to a number of failed prosecutions arising out of high profile disasters such as the Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987. Its primary purpose was to make it easier to obtain manslaughter convictions against companies.

The sentencing guidelines that accompanied the law in 2007 suggested that for corporate manslaughter the "appropriate fine will seldom be less than £500,000 and may be measured in millions of pounds." This review of the guidelines is taking place due to concerns that some sentences imposed for these offences have been too low, particularly in relation to large organisations convicted of the most serious health and safety offences.

In 2013/14 in the UK, 133 people were killed at work and 70 members of the public fatally injured in accidents connected to work, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

However, to date, there have been only eight convictions for corporate manslaughter in England and Wales since the legislation was introduced in 2007. The largest fine issued thus far was handed down recently when a company was found guilty of corporate manslaughter and fined £500,000 following the death of an employee.

It is evident that the proposals to substantially increase the fines are set to shake things up and ensure that companies start to take health and safety more seriously. Some companies appear to consider the whole issue to be a game and so rely on having sufficient insurance cover in case they “lose”.

The consultation on the guidelines has already closed and the new regulations could be in place later this year. They aim to be based on the Turnover of a business (rather than profit) and a small business with only £2million in Turnover could be looking at a fine of up to £80,000 for a breach of duty creating a very high risk of death.

Individuals will also face significantly higher fines, and the prospect of a custodial sentence (and not just for the most serious types of offences) is going to be a real possibility.

Curwens LLP is your local firm of solicitors offering most areas of legal advice – based in Royston, Hoddesdon, and Enfield.

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