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Increased penalties for serious health and safety offences

New sentencing guidelines for corporate manslaughter, health and safety, food safety and hygiene have been published.

The guidelines, introduced by the Sentencing Council, include an increase in penalties for serious offences, such as creating a high risk of death or serious injury.

They cover legislation including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA); section 33(1)(a) in relation to breaches of section 2, section 3 and section 7; and section 33(1)(c).

Sentencing ranges depend on levels of risk of harm that can result from the offences and how culpable the offender was.

The guidelines, which will come into force in courts in England and Wales on 1 February 2016, must be followed, unless a judge or magistrate considers it is not in the interests of justice to do so.

The council said the guidelines were needed because previously some offenders did not receive fines that properly reflected the crimes they committed. But it said it did not anticipate that there will be higher fines across the board, or that they will be significantly higher in most cases.

There had also been limited guidance for judges and magistrates in dealing with less frequent complex and serious offences until now, according to the independent body.

Sentencing Council member, Michael Caplan QC said: “These guidelines will introduce a consistent approach to sentencing, ensuring fair and proportionate sentences for those who cause death or injury to their employees and the public or put them at risk.

“These offences can have very serious consequences and it is important that sentences reflect these.”

Legislation requires that any fine imposed must reflect the seriousness of the offence and take into account the financial circumstances of the offender.

Food Standards Agency director of regulatory and legal strategy, Rod Ainsworth said: “We welcome these guidelines.

“They will ensure that there is consistency in sentencing for food safety and food hygiene offences across the country. They will also ensure that offenders are sentenced fairly and proportionately in the interests of consumers.”

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