19:10, July 03 311 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-03 19:10:02
Longer sentences proposed for negligently ignoring risk of death

Prison sentences for gross negligence manslaughter should be increased in cases where employers or organisations save money through ignoring safety concerns, judges are being advised.

Launching a consultation on revising the way the courts deal with manslaughter cases, the Sentencing Council for England and Wales is recommending that courts adopt a tougher approach to those who are aware of but fail to respond to a risk of death.

The council promotes greater consistency in sentencing across the courts by issuing and updating guidelines for judges while aiming to increase public understanding of the decision judges make.

In its review of manslaughter cases released on Tuesday, the council highlights one area – gross negligence manslaughter – where it believes that prison sentences should be longer.

“The council came to the conclusion that it would be appropriate for sentences to increase in some situations,” the report said.

“Typically these are cases where an employer has had a longstanding utter disregard for the safety of employees and is motivated by cost cutting – but there may be other analogous factual scenarios where sentences would also rise under the proposed guideline.”

The maximum sentence for gross negligence manslaughter is 18 years. Sentencing practice in such cases is lower than for other types of manslaughter, the draft guidelines point out.

Gross negligence manslaughter charges can also be brought in fatal driving cases. “The council is concerned that sentences should be at least as high as those that would be imposed for causing death by dangerous driving,” the report stated.

Another area where it could be used is in a medical setting when a doctor or practitioner falls far below the required standard in the treatment of a patient.

Changes to gross negligence manslaughter could conceivably affect the way in which the judges eventually try any cases that might arise from the Grenfell Tower fire.

There is relatively limited sentencing guidance available to judges for manslaughter. Guidelines for corporate manslaughter are covered by the Sentencing Council’s health and safety offences advice.

These are the first comprehensive manslaughter guidelines drawn up for cases that include unintended deaths resulting from an assault or a workplace fatality caused by an employer’s negligence.

Mr Justice Holroyde, a member of the Sentencing Council, said: “Manslaughter always involves the loss of a human life and no sentence can make up for that loss. In developing these guidelines, we have been keenly aware of the impact caused by these offences and so the guidelines aim to ensure sentencing that properly reflects both the culpability of the offender and the seriousness of the harm which has been caused.”