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The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act is still in its infancy. With new sentencing guidelines now open for public consultation, Jonathan Grimes, Partner at Kingsley Napley reflects on seven years of cases and predicts the Act’s impact in 2015.

On 7th November 2014, Sterecyle, a waste processing business in Rotherham, was found guilty of corporate manslaughter – an offence under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (CMCHA). These cases remain relatively rare.

The Sterecycle case followed the tragic death of 42-year-old worker Michael Whinfrey in January 2011. Mr Whinfrey was killed in an explosion in an autoclave, a pressure chamber used for sterilizing, when the door exploded as the result of the failure of a screw. In his sentencing remarks the judge at Sheffield Crown Court described the company as falling far short of its obligations, in all material respects, in relation to maintenance and safe operation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) described the accident as entirely preventable.

Sterecycle was fined £500,000, the largest fine to date, though it is likely that this will never be paid as the company went into administration between the time of the accident and the trial. In 2010 the Sentencing Council issued guidance as to the appropriate level of fines for companies convicted of corporate manslaughter. This guidance suggests that appropriate fines “will seldom be less than £500,000 and maybe measured in millions of pounds”. This is the first case in which a court has


felt able to impose a fine in compliance with this guidance. Although, perhaps it was the company’s inability to pay a fine of any level that gave the judge freedom to impose a sentence that fully reflected the seriousness of the company’s offence.

The Sentencing Council very recently published further draft sentencing guidelines for public consultation. A theme of this new guidance is the need for increased financial penalties in the worst cases (which, by definition, includes corporate manslaughter cases). For convicted companies the draft guidance proposes a range of starting points for financial penalties — from £300,000 for “micro” companies with turnovers up to £2 million, up to £7.5 million for the most serious cases involving “large” companies with a turnover of more than £50 million. Although this guidance is not final and awaits responses during the consultation process, guidance broadly based on this approach is likely to come into effect at some point in 2015.

This year, we are likely to see a steady increase in the level of fines imposed following health and safety and corporate manslaughter convictions. This has been an observable trend over the last few years. Companies that will remain the easiest and most regular targets for corporate

manslaughter prosecutions are those with the least ability to meet such large financial penalties. This will continue to make sentencing them so difficult. Should judges impose sentences that reflect the seriousness of the offence or the ability of the offending company to pay?

Sterecycle shared characteristics with some of the other companies prosecuted for corporate manslaughter to date. It was relatively small in size with approximately 40 employees. The largest company prosecuted so far was Lion Steel Ltd in 2012, with some 140 employees. Sterecycle was engaged in a business – waste recycling – which has a higher risk of accidents than some other sectors. Other business sectors in which corporate manslaughter prosecutions have occurred have been similarly higher risk areas including farming, construction and mining. Finally, like almost all other cases so far (the exception being the prosecution of Prince’s Sporting Club over the death of girl killed on a boat ride) the deceased was an employee.

One way in which the Sterecycle prosecution breaks new legal ground is in the fact that no individual, or individuals, were identified as being the cause of the failure that led to the accident. This is important as it demonstrates that a conviction

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