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Lower fines proposed for Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide offenders

Penalties for employers charged under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act look likely to be softened.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council has released a second consultation paper on the Corporate Manslaughter Act with changes to the original proposals

It proposes companies and organisations that cause death through gross breaches of care should face punitive and significant fines but fines for organisations found guilty of the new offence of corporate manslaughter may be measured in millions of pounds and should seldom be below £500,000.

Previously it had been suggested corporate manslaughter fines should be linked to the convicted company's turnover, in the range of 3% to 10%.

In virtually all cases a fine will be imposed on convicted companies and the consultation guideline proposes that the publicity should be designed to ensure the conviction becomes known to shareholders and customers in the case of companies and to local people in the case of public bodies such as local authorities, hospital trusts and police forces.

Organisations may also be forced to put a statement on their websites.

Fines in health and safety cases, leading to deaths at work, should seldom be less than £100,000 and may be measured in hundreds of thousands of pounds or more, the council proposes.

In deciding the level of fine, the council says a court should not be influenced by the impact on shareholders and directors but the effect on the employment of the innocent workforce may be relevant. 

Factors increasing the seriousness of the offence identified by the council include how foreseeable serious injury was, how common the kind of breach of care in the organisation is and how far up the organisation responsibility for the breach went.  

Other factors that aggravate the offence and may attract a larger fine include the number of deaths and serious injury caused, failure to heed warnings, cost-cutting or deliberate failure to obtain or comply with relevant licences.

Council member and vice-president of the Court of Appeal (criminal division)

Lord Justice Anthony Hughes said: "Fines cannot and do not attempt to value a human life - compensation will be payable separately in these cases.  

"The fine is designed to punish and these are serious offences so the fines imposed should be punitive and significant to reflect that."  

"The council considered very carefully the approach suggested by the

Sentencing Advisory Panel of a fixed correlation between the amount of the fine and a company's turnover or profit, but decided this was not appropriate in view of the different financial structures and circumstances of organisations within the private, public and third sectors. 

David Beckenham, health and safety consultant, Norton Rose, added: "There does seem to have been a softening in the suggested approach for fines under the Corporate Manslaughter Act (the first prosecution under the Act is due to be heard in February 2010).

"However the suggestion that fines should seldom be below £500,000 means the average fine will still be 10 times greater than it currently is.

"Additionally the council's comments in respect of publicity orders should ring alarm bells given the potentially detrimental effect this could have on a company's share price."