The Sentencing Council has published definitive guidelines for those convicted of manslaughter offences in England and Wales
Publication marks the first time that comprehensive guidelines have been drawn up for these very serious and difficult cases, which could range from an unintended death resulting from an assault, to a workplace fatality caused by a negligent employer.
The serious nature of manslaughter, combined with the great variation in cases, and the fact that cases do not come before individual judges very frequently, means the introduction of guidelines will, we agree, be particularly useful in promoting consistency in sentencing and transparency in terms of how sentencing decisions are reached.
Overall, the guideline is unlikely to change sentence levels but it is expected that in some gross negligence cases sentences will increase. This could be in situations where, for example, an employer’s long-standing and serious disregard for the safety of employees, motivated by cost-cutting, has led to someone being killed. Current sentencing practice in these sorts of cases is lower in the context of overall sentence levels for manslaughter than for other types.
The guidelines will apply to individuals convicted of:
- Unlawful act manslaughter (up to 24 years’ custody);
- Gross negligence manslaughter (up to 18 years’ custody);
- Manslaughter by reason of loss of control (up to 20 years’ custody); or
- Manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility (up to 40 years’ custody).
There are separate guidelines that apply to those convicted of corporate manslaughter
The guidelines provide a step-by-step approach for judges to adopt, taking a wide range of different factors into account for each of the four offences, such as the degree of responsibility/culpability, reductions for an early guilty plea and any time spent on bail.
The new guidelines will apply to any offender convicted after 1 November 2018, irrespective of when the offence occurred.