Employers convicted of gross negligence in the UK could face 18 years in prison before being eligible for parole under new sentencing guidelines for judges.
The Sentencing Council, which aims to produce greater consistency amongst English and Welsh courts, has produced a definitive set of recommendations for judges presiding over all manslaughter cases.
Penalties are expected to rise because the new advice asks judges to focus on the blame that should be placed on the offender, rather than the broad circumstances of the case.
The gross negligence charge can be brought against employers under a variety of circumstances, including where employers are repeatedly negligent, show a blatant disregard for risk, or completely disregard safety for financial gain.
Sentencing Council member Lord Justice Holroyde said "manslaughter offences vary hugely – some cases are not far from being an accident, while others may be just short of murder."
"While no sentence can make up for the loss of life, this guideline will help ensure sentencing that properly reflects the culpability of the offender and the unique facts of each case.”
Justice Minister, Rory Stewart, said manslaughter was an extremely serious offence that caused immeasurable pain to families who lose their loved ones.
“It is vital our courts have clear, consistent guidance in these often complex cases – such as when both individuals and employers are involved. These guidelines will make sure sentences reflect the severity of the crime, helping protect workers and keep communities safe.”
It's believed the new guidelines could affect the prosecutions of the Hillsborough disaster and the Grenfell Tower fire (see related article).
The guidelines come into force on November 1.