This is a really quick blog to update you on something that has perhaps slipped under the radar for many people. Indeed it is something that one of my students spotted and asked me about (thanks Jane!). Our own rather brilliant Andrew Ashford then set about conducting detailed research. And here I am updating you all (it’s a real team game here at RRC HQ), see Magistrates to help tackle backlog as sentencing powers doubled – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
The powers of the courts and the sentencing options
Many of you will be familiar with the powers of the courts and the sentencing options, with particular emphasis on Health, Safety and Environmental Offences. The sentencing has changed significantly over the years.Bbut the changes have all been primarily around the increase in fines and the increased levels of fines available in the magistrates courts. In my career I have seen the fines increase from £5000 (for breaches of regulations) to “unlimited fines” (subject to the sentencing guidelines of course) and organsaitons have indeed received substantial fines in both Magistrates and Crown courts. However, possible custodial sentences were capped at 6 months in the magistrates courts for summary or either way offences, and 2 years for either way offences in the crown court. (As a recap, an “either way” offence can be heard either summarily in the magistrates court, or on indictment to crown court, depending upon the case.)
The Sentencing Act 2020
The Sentencing Act 2020 (section 224(1) if you really want to know!) created provision to increase sentencing powers of the magistrates courts from 6 months to 12 months for “either way” offences (NB summary offences remain at a maximum term of 6 months). This provision lurked in the background until 2nd May when it was enacted and is not in force. This means that for either way offences (which a great many offences are) there is a maximum custodial sentence of 12 months in a magistrates court and 2 years in crown court. I should remind you all that of course offences such as manslaughter carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment! And if you really want to scare them, here are the sentencing guidelines for individuals: Individuals: Breach of duty of employer towards employees and non-employees/ Breach of duty of self-employed to others/ Breach of duty of employees at work/ Breach of Health and Safety regulations/ Secondary liability – Sentencing (sentencingcouncil.org.uk) and organisations Organisations: Breach of duty of employer towards employees and non-employees/ Breach of duty of self-employed to others/ Breach of Health and Safety regulations – Sentencing (sentencingcouncil.org.uk)
Should this worry us – well not unless you’re planning on breaking the law, but it’s certainly useful information to have in your pocket if you want to convince someone to take action!
RRC Lead Tutor