Plans to toughen sentencing for gross negligence manslaughter

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Jul 04, 2017
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For manslaughter charges to be brought over the Grenfell fire, it would have to be proved that local authority individuals had a duty of care to the tower block residents

Carl Court/Getty Images

Any individuals prosecuted over the Grenfell Tower fire for manslaughter would face longer jail terms under proposals from the sentencing watchdog released today.

The Sentencing Council’s proposed new guidelines for manslaughter offences say that present sentencing levels for “gross negligence manslaughter” are out of line. 

Gross negligence manslaughter is charged when the offender is in breach of a duty of care towards the victim which causes the death of the victim and amounts to a criminal act or omission, the council says. In a workplace context, charges may be brought where a death is caused by an employer’s “long standing and serious disregard for the safety of employees which was motivated by cost-cutting”.

If prosecutions are brought over the Grenfell Tower fire, they could involve either corporate manslaughter charges – aimed at a company or organisation – or manslaughter by gross negligence, which would target individuals. Alternatively, both sets of charges could be brought. For gross negligence manslaughter to be proved, it would have to be shown that local authority individuals owed a duty of care to the council tenants who had died and took steps or failed to take steps that caused their death.

The Sentencing Council says that an analysis of sentencing of 16 offenders sentenced for gross negligence manslaughter in 2014 showed that the prison terms ranged from nine months to 12 years, four of which were suspended. The median sentence length was four years.

The proposed guidelines for courts in England and Wales are the first to be drawn up for manslaughter cases and cover four different kinds of manslaughter. In most cases, the guidelines will not affect the levels of sentence but the council says that it expects that in some gross negligence manslaughter cases the penalties will rise.

Mr Justice Holroyde, a member of the Sentencing Council, said: “In developing these guidelines, we have been keenly aware of the impact caused by these offences and so the guidelines aim to ensure sentencing that properly reflects both the culpability of the offender and the seriousness of the harm which has been caused.”

The council is seeking comments on its proposals by October 10.

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