Fines range upwards from £500,000, according to draft rules on the corporate manslaughter offence

Companies convicted of corporate manslaughter can expect to face very substantial fines next year, running into millions of pounds and seldom anything less than £500,000. In addition, those found guilty of other health and safety offences which cause death are likely to incur a fine of at least £100,000, or even several hundred thousand pounds.

These were two of the key recommendations published recently by the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) in its draft guidelines for sentencing offences under the Corporate Manslaughter Act and for breaches of health and safety regulations which cause a fatality.

While the standard of behaviour expected of public sector offenders is the same as for the private sector, the effect of a fine on the provision of services to the public will be a relevant consideration. The draft guidelines have therefore recognised that a different approach to determining the level of fine may be justified.

The draft guidelines provide organisations with an indicative tariff of the minimum fine they are likely to face for a breach of the Corporate Manslaughter Act.

“It had been suggested that fines should be linked to an organisation's turnover, so they will be relieved the Sentencing Guidelines Council has decided against this,” noted Andrew Stokes, partner and head of the Safety, Health & Environment Group at Beachcroft LLP.

He added: “Corporate manslaughter convictions could reach into the millions of pounds, to reflect the new legislation’s intention to impose fines that appropriately reflect society’s disapproval of these very serious offences.”

“The new sanction under the Corporate Manslaughter Act of publicity orders, requiring organisations to publicise their conviction and fine, is likely to be imposed in almost all cases,” he said. “The guidelines recommend that offenders will have to place a notice on their website for at least three months and there are also suggestions in relation to the extent of wider publicity in the press.

The guidelines are expected to be finalised in time to be applied to the first corporate manslaughter trial due to take place in February 2010.

The draft recommendations are subject to consultation until 5 January 2010.

Summary of the proposed sentencing guidelines

· Companies should face punitive and significant fines but these should not be calculated as a percentage of annual turnover as previously suggested
· Multi-million pound fines should be the norm with fines rarely falling below £500,000
· In almost all cases companies should be forced to publicise convictions ensuring that shareholders ,customers and other stakeholders are made aware of them
· Fines in respect of workplace accidents causing death but falling short of Corporate Manslaughter should be in the order of hundreds of thousands of pounds and rarely fall below one hundred thousand
· In deciding on the level of fine the court should not be influenced by the impact on shareholders or directors but may take into account the effect on innocent workers and on public services
· Aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances should also be taken into account