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Tougher penalties for food companies guilty of causing harm

Food businesses found guilty of serious crimes, including corporate manslaughter, now face much tougher penalties.
A key development is that judges may now take into consideration the financial circumstances of the company in question. Under the new legislation, which was announced towards the end of last year, large companies (with a turnover of more than £50 million per year) can be fined up to £3 million for breaching food safety regulations. In the case of corporate manslaughter, penalties can be as high as £20 million.
The Sentencing Council is reacting to feedback from previous cases, where companies received fines that did not reflect the seriousness of their offences.
Relevant offences cover a very wide range of circumstances. These include situations as diverse as E. Coli poisoning to employee injuries caused by inadequate training or machinery accidents.
The law now gives the same weight to the concepts of culpability and harm in the food industry that it does in terms of wider health and safety. Where there is a high degree of culpability, the possibility for a custodial sentence for individuals involved is now much higher too. A “very high” degree of culpability involves “deliberate breach or flagrant disregard for the law”, whereas a low culpability offence might be an isolated accident that involved only minor failings, and where significant efforts were made (albeit unsuccessfully) to address any risks.

Michael Caplan QC, a member of the Sentencing Council, commented that the purpose of the guidelines was to introduce a consistent approach to sentencing, ensuring fair and proportionate sentences for companies and individuals who put either members of the public or their own employees at risk.
The new guidelines came into effect on 1 February 2016, regardless of the date of the offence itself.

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