James and Sarah consider the Sentencing Council’s report published this month into the Health and Safety sentencing.
The sentencing guidelines are used in courts to promote greater consistency in sentencing for health and safety offences. The guidelines came into force in February 2016. The Sentencing Council have now prepared a report into the effectiveness of the guidelines.
As anticipated, fines have increased overall for organisations after the guidelines came into force. In particular, fines have seen a considerable increase for larger organisations, those that have an annual turnover of £50 million and over. The report states that in the 10 months prior to the sentencing guidelines being in place, the median fine amount was £12,000. In the 10 months after the sentencing guidelines were published, the median fine amount increased to £60,000. That’s an increase of 400%! Fine amounts increased for all sizes of organisations, although the Sentencing Council have commented that they did not anticipate fines to rise for individuals – they have!
Mitigating and aggravating factors in the context of sentencing are those circumstances which may reduce(mitigating) or increase (aggravating) the sentence accordingly. Interestingly, the report states that mitigating factors were cited much more frequently than aggravating factors (90 percent of cases compared with 50 percent, respectively). On average, around two mitigating factors were cited in the report considered. This contrasts with aggravating factors where, on average, less than one aggravating factor was cited in each case. The most common aggravating factors cited were ‘previous convictions’ and ‘cost-cutting at the expense of safety’. We cannot stress the robust stance courts take when ‘cost cutting’ is demonstrated as a factor in the offence.
So what should we take from this? Clearly fines are increasing. The most stark difference is that of fines given to any organisation regardless of size are now routinely significant and in some cases terminal for the viability of that business.
The likes of Poundstretcher, Tata Steel, Tesco, and Stagecoach have all been handed fines of £1 million or more after breaching health and safety law in the last year. The £1 million fine is becoming the new ‘norm’ in the health and safety arena.