14 March, 2017
The Sentencing Council have released updated Definitive Guidelines on the Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea. The purpose of the guidelines is to encourage those who are going to plead guilty to do so as early in the court process as possible. The Guidelines come into force from 1 June 2017.
Since the introduction in February 2016 of the Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences Definitive Guidelines, we have reported on a number of significant fines being issued to companies following breaches of health and safety legislation.
The new guidelines provide that where a guilty plea is indicated at the first stage of proceedings i.e. normally at the first hearing at which a plea or indication of a plea is sought and recorded by the court, a reduction of one-third should be made to the sentence. This is a substantial reduction for organisations potentially facing a six figure fine.
In health and safety cases it is often difficult for large organisations to enter a guilty plea at such an early stage, however, there is an exception in the guidelines if the sentencing court is satisfied that particular circumstances significantly reduced the defendant's ability to understand what was alleged or otherwise made it unreasonable to expect the defendant to indicate a guilty plea at an earlier stage, in such cases a reduction of one-third will still be made.