Individuals convicted of gross negligence manslaughter should face less severe punishment if stressful working conditions contributed to their actions, or if their employer’s procedures were inadequate, the Sentencing Council has been told. The suggestions, from the Law Society and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) respectively, were submitted to the Sentencing Council’s consultation on a new draft sentencing guideline for manslaughter, which proposes jail terms of up to 18 years for serious gross negligence offences.
The consultation was launched in July 2017, with the Council arguing that sentences for gross negligence manslaughter are often lower than those for other types of manslaughter. It closed on 10th October 2017. The Council carried out an analysis of sentencing, finding that, in 2014, 16 offenders were sentenced for manslaughter by gross negligence, receiving custodial terms from nine months to 12 years; of these, four were suspended. The median was four years.
Under the draft guideline, the starting point for a medium culpability offence would be four years in jail, but the sentence could go as high as seven years.
The Law Society, the professional body for solicitors in England and Wales, argued that the proposed penalties are too harsh. It said that the starting point for the highest culpability offence should be eight years, rather than 12 as proposed, “with comparative ranges”. This implies that the highest penalty for gross negligence should be around 13 years.
It added that additional mitigating factors should be; “personal circumstances affecting judgement, e.g. recent breakdown, bereavement, anxiety”; being “overworked or stressed due to matters outside the offender’s control”; or taking “advice from a senior colleague”.
Meanwhile, the TUC’s response to the consultation “strong supports” the plans to hike jail terms. Safety professionals’ body – Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH) – said that it would not submit a response, but highlighted its 2015 submissions to the consultation on the guideline for health and safety offences, which supported the Council’s effort to improve consistency and proportionality.
Source: Health & Safety at Work Magazine – November 2017
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