New definitive guidelines for manslaughter offences promoting consistency in sentencing and transparency in reaching decisions will apply to people aged 18 and older who are sentenced on or after 1 November 2018 in England and Wales.
The guidance will address four types of manslaughter of which gross negligence manslaughter is the most relevant in a workplace context. This offence applies where there has been a gross breach of a duty of care and the breach results in a death amounting to a criminal act or omission and is the offence relevant to workplace health and safety.
The guideline provides sentencing judges with a range of options from one to eighteen years imprisonment per offence. It takes into account culpability on a sliding scale from A-D (A being very high), and states that, given the loss of life, harm will always be of the utmost seriousness.
The guideline goes on to list a number of aggravating and mitigating factors for the courts to consider which will, in turn, affect the length of the sentence handed down. Aggravating factors most applicable to a death in the workplace include; previous convictions, ignoring previous warnings and others put at risk of harm by the offending.
Relevant mitigating factors include; no previous convictions, the offender was subject to stress or pressure which contributed to the negligent conduct, cooperation with the investigation, the negligent conduct was compounded by the actions or omissions of others beyond the offender's control and for reasons beyond the offender's control they hadn't been properly trained or supported.
The true impact of the guideline remains to be seen, although the expectation is that sentences will increase significantly for gross negligence manslaughter offences. Separate sentencing guidelines for Scotland are in the process of consultation and are expected to fall in line with those for England and Wales.