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Outcry at retreat on corporate manslaughter Fines

There has been widespread condemnation of the Government's retreat on 'percentage' levels of fines for companies convicted under the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council's original plans for penalties under the Act would have seen fines linked to a set percentage of a firm's turnover, with the most serious offenders potentially docked as much as 10 per cent. However, this proposal has now been sidelined in favour of 'punitive fines measured in millions', but not linked to turnover. A range of groups have expressed dismay at the plans, which would see a minimum fine of just £500,000. Trade union law firm Thompsons Solicitors said that the new sentencing guidelines were a 'gross undermining' of the new law, and will replace what was 'a flexible deterrent with teeth' with 'a sledgehammer'.

"This looks tough but won't be effective," they said. "The minimum fine approach will close down some companies and be peanuts to others. Allowing the courts to levy a penalty based on 5-25 per cent of turnover would have been a proper deterrent. This positively encourages the small employer who is cavalier about health and safety and would be bust by a £500k fine to carry on regardless and won't put a dent in the profits of a big company which doesn't care."

The BSC's head of policy Neal Stone is worried that the guidelines are Vague' and may lead to inconsistent sentencing'. "We do not accept the SGC's premise that tariffs based on turnover are inappropriate given the widely different circumstances of defendant organisations,' he said. "It is important that the guidelines make clear that fines are within a broad range, and what that range is, and that fines of £500,000 for corporate manslaughter are neither the norm nor the starting point," he declared.

Thompsons also expressed disappointment that Remedial Orders - a new type of penalty courts are empowered to set, ordering convicted firms to remedy safety failings - have been largely glossed over. They said: "Remedial orders are one of the most significant changes in penalties, yet they warrant barely a mention. They are a powerful new tool which gives virtually unlimited power to the courts to intervene in a company."