Consultation launched into new guidelines for manslaughter convictions
Published: 05 Jul 2017

The Sentencing Council in England and Wales have launched a consultation into proposals for how those who are convicted of manslaughter should be sentenced.

The proposed sentencing guidelines cover the offences of:

  • unlawful act manslaughter;
  • manslaughter by reason of loss of control;
  • manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility; and
  • gross negligence manslaughter.

Gross negligence manslaughter is an offence which managers and company director's may be charged with if their negligence is found to have caused the death of an employee.

The proposed guidelines set out a step-by-step decision making process for the court to use when sentencing manslaughter.  Before sentencing is passed the court will have had to correctly determine the type of manslaughter offence in each case, as the proposed steps for each type of manslaughter may result in varying outcomes. 

Culpability factors

In terms of proposed sentencing guidelines for gross negligence manslaughter, firstly the court must determine which of the four levels of culpability apply to the offender. The culpability factors are:

  • A, very high - this may be indicated by the extreme character of factors which fall under high culpability or a combination of high culpability factors;
  • B, high - which considers the following factors:
    • the offender persisted in the negligent conduct in the face of the obvious suffering of the deceased,
    • negligent conduct was in the context of other serious criminality,
    • negligent conduct was motivated by financial gain, or avoidance of cost,
    • negligent conduct persisted over a long period of time,
    • the offender was in a dominant role if acting with others,
    • the offender was clearly aware of the risk of death arising from the offender's negligent conduct,
    • concealment, destruction, defilement or dismemberment of the body;
  • C, medium - this covers cases which fall between the categories of high and low because factors are present in high and lower which balance each other out and / or the offender's culpability falls between the factors as described in higher and lower;
  • D, lower - which considers the following factors:
    • the offender did not appreciate the risk of death arising from the negligent conduct,
    • negligent conduct was a lapse in the offender's otherwise satisfactory standard of care,
    • offender was in a lesser or subordinate role if acting with others,
    • offender's responsibility was substantially reduced by mental disorder, learning disability or lack of maturity.

The consideration given to harm is the same in all cases of manslaughter as inevitably a charge of manslaughter is only brought about after a loss of life has occurred. 

The second stage is for the court to determine the starting point and category range for a single offence of manslaughter. At this stage the guidelines state that the court should consider the suffering and vulnerability of the victim.

Sentencing in the second stage covers a variety of sentencing ranging from a minimum of one years' custody to a maximum of 18 years.

Culpability:

A

B

C

D

Starting point:

12 years’ custody

8 years’ custody

4 years’ custody

2 years’ custody

Category range:

10-18 years’ custody

6-12 years’ custody

3-7 years’ custody

1-4 years’ custody


Aggravating factors

Once a starting point has been established, the court must consider any additional factors which may aggravate or mitigate the offence, and adjust the sentence arrived at so far.  

Statutory aggravating factors include:

  • previous convictions;
  • an offence being committed whilst offender is on bail;
  • offence found to be motivated by any of the victims characteristics, e.g. religion, race, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity.

Other aggravating factors would include:

  • a history of significant violence or abuse towards the victim by the offender;
  • involvement of others through coercion, intimidation or exploitation;
  • significant mental or physical suffering caused to the deceased;
  • commission of an offence whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
  • offence involved use of a weapon;
  • others were put at risk of harm by the offending;
  • death occurred in the context of dishonesty or the pursuit of financial gain;
  • actions after the event, for example attempts to cover up or conceal evidence;
  • blame is wrongly placed in others.

Factors which would reduce the seriousness or reflect personal mitigation include:

  • no previous convictions or relevant convictions;
  • remorse;
  • duty of care was a temporary one created by the particular circumstances;
  • good character or exemplary conduct;
  • serious medical conditions requiring urgent, intensive or long-term treatment;
  • age and / or lack of maturity;
  • sole or primary carer for dependent relatives.

Relevance to health and safety

The proposed guidelines are based on an analysis of current sentencing practice and it is thought that in most cases, there are unlikely to be changes to sentence levels. However where a death was caused by an employer’s long-standing and serious disregard for the safety of employees which was motivated by something such as cost-cutting, it is believed that sentences could increase in such gross negligence cases.

Sentencing for gross negligence manslaughter has always previously been lower than the overall sentence levels for other types of manslaughter offences, with a median sentence of four years in comparison to eight to ten years for unlawful act manslaughter and manslaughter by reason of loss of control.

The Sentencing Council have said: "The introduction of guidelines will be particularly useful in promoting consistency in sentencing and transparency in terms of how sentencing decisions are reached."

Mr Justice Holroyde, Sentencing Council member commented: ''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.''

The Consultation will run until 10 October 2017.

For more information, see the:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

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