Sentencing Council publishes new guidelines for sentencing manslaughter convictions
Published: 14 Aug 2018

The Sentencing Council in England and Wales have published new guidelines for sentencing those who are convicted of manslaughter.

The new 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 directors may be charged with if their negligence is found to have caused the death of an employee.

The guidelines set out a step-by-step decision making process for the court to use when sentencing manslaughter offences. 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,
    • the offender was clearly aware of the risk of death arising from the offender's negligent conduct,
    • negligent conduct was motivated by financial gain, or avoidance of cost,
    • the offender was in a dominant role if acting with others,
    • 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:
    • 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;
  • offender ignored previous warnings;
  • 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;
  • actions after the event, for example attempts to cover up or conceal evidence;
  • investigation hindered by or others suffered as a result of blame being falsely blamed by the offender;
  • offence being committed on licence or post sentence supervision or while subject to court orders.

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

  • no previous convictions or relevant convictions;
  • remorse;
  • attempts to assist the victim;
  • self-reporting and/or co-operation with the investigation;
  • for reasons beyond their control the offender lacked the necessary expertise, equipment, support or training which contributed to their negligent conduct;
  • for reasons beyond their control the offender was subject to stress or pressure which related to and contributed to the negligent conduct;
  • for reasons beyond the offender's control the negligent conduct occurred in circumstances where there was reduced scope for exercising usual care and competence;
  • negligent conduct was compounded by the actions or omissions of others beyond the offender's control;
  • good character or exemplary conduct;
  • serious medical conditions requiring urgent, intensive or long-term treatment;
  • mental disorder or learning disability;
  • age and / or lack of maturity;
  • sole or primary carer for dependent relatives.

Relevance to health and safety

The new 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 will 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.

Sentencing Council member Lord Justice Holroyde commented: "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 new guidelines will come into force in courts on 1 November 2018.

For more information, see the: