First Definitive Sentencing Guideline for Manslaughter: higher sentences introduced

Convictions for gross negligence will now attract higher sentences following the introduction by the Sentencing Council of a new definitive guideline on manslaughter offences. The intention is to ensure sentencing is proportionate to the offence committed.

This definitive guideline follows a public consultation which came after public concern about the sentences passed in a number of high profile manslaughter cases. It applies to adult offenders sentenced from 1 November 2018, regardless of the date the offence was committed. It applies to cases ranging from unintended deaths resulting from assault, to workplace fatalities caused by negligent employers (though note that it only applies to individuals – there is a separate sentencing for corporate manslaughter).

The offences within the scope of the guidelines are:

  • Unlawful Act manslaughter: 1 to 24 years in prison
  • Gross negligence manslaughter: 1 to 18 years in prison
  • Manslaughter by reason of loss of control: up to 20 years in prison, and
  • Manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility: 3 to 40 years in prison

The guideline is lengthy and detailed (it is the first comprehensive sentencing guidance for manslaughter offences), setting out the wide range of factors to be taken into account in the decision-making process in respect of each offence. Those factors include early guilty pleas, the level of culpability and responsibility, and the harm caused, time spent on bail – and further aggravating and mitigating factors that should lead to an adjustment of the sentence.

Gross negligence
Gross negligence manslaughter will now attract higher sentences. In its consultation document, the Sentencing Council stated: “According to an analysis of sentencing transcripts 16 offenders were sentenced for manslaughter by gross negligence in 2014. All were sentenced to determinate custodial terms ranging from nine months to 12 years, four of which were suspended. The median sentence length was four years”

The issue of gross negligence manslaughter made development of the guidelines particularly challenging for the Sentencing Council, but sentencing should now properly reflect the seriousness of gross negligence manslaughter.

Notably, one factor cited in the guidelines that may be indicative of negligent conduct is being motivated by financial gain or avoidance of cost. For example, where a supermarket takes shortcuts with health and safety procedure sand a customer is killed by a falling display unit; or an employer refuses to pay for necessary implementation of protective equipment - and an employee dies in an accident that was avoidable had it been provided.

Criminal practitioners are advised to read the sentencing guidelines in full.



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