19:16, July 30 292 0 theguardian.com

2018-07-30 19:16:05
Gross negligence manslaughter jail terms could rise in England and Wales

Employers, carers and organisations convicted of gross negligence manslaughter could face longer prison terms after changes to sentencing guidelines.

The new advice from the Sentencing Council could affect the outcome of prosecutions arising from the Hillsborough disaster and the Grenfell Tower fire.

The council, which promotes greater consistency of sentencing in English and Welsh courts, has for the first time produced a definitive set of recommendations for judges across all manslaughter cases.

The guidelines are not expected to lead to changes in sentencing practices, apart from those dealing with gross negligence manslaughter offences – charges that the police have said they are considering in relation to Grenfell.

David Duckenfield, the former police superintendent who was on duty during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, is already facing trial on 95 counts of gross negligence manslaughter.

The offence carries a maximum tariff of life imprisonment with a range of up to 18 years in custody. Charges are brought when an offender is alleged to be in breach of a duty of care towards a victim, which causes their death and amounts to a criminal act or omission.

The charge can be brought against employers, for example, where their disregard for the safety of employees, motivated by cost-cutting, has led to someone being killed. It can also be used against parents or carers who fail to protect a child from an obvious danger.

In 2016, 10 people were sentenced for the offence. Current sentencing practice in such cases has been lower than for other types of manslaughter offences. In the past, sentences may have focused more on the circumstances in which deaths occurred, rather than on the responsibility of the defendant.

The guidelines explicitly ask judges to consider as matters indicating a high level of culpability whether the defendant was motivated by financial gain, repeatedly negligent or showed blatant disregard for risk. They will come into force on 1 November.

Lord Justice Holroyde, a member of the Sentencing Council, said: “Manslaughter offences vary hugely – some cases are not far from being an accident, while others may be just short of murder. While no sentence can make up for the loss of life, this guideline will help ensure sentencing that properly reflects the culpability of the offender and the unique facts of each case.”

The justice minister, Rory Stewart, said: “Manslaughter is an extremely serious offence, causing immeasurable pain to families who lose their loved ones.

“So it is vital our courts have clear, consistent guidance in these often complex cases – such as when both individuals and employers are involved. These guidelines will make sure sentences reflect the severity of the crime, helping protect workers and keep communities safe.”