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On 1 June 2017, a new guideline published by the Sentencing Council came into force which encourages those contemplating a guilty plea to do so at the earliest possible opportunity. The new guideline applies to matters heard in the Crown and Magistrates’ Courts including health and safety offences.
The effect of the new guideline is that if the defendant does not act quickly and enter a guilty plea at the first hearing, it may not attract the maximum sentence discount of one third. After the first hearing, there is a sliding scale of reduction with it decreasing to one quarter at the next hearing and then one tenth on the first day of trial.
There are exceptions where the “particular circumstances” significantly reduce the defendant’s ability to understand what is alleged or otherwise make it unreasonable to indicate a guilty plea at the first stage. In those cases, which are likely to be multi party complex regulatory prosecutions, a one third reduction may still apply.
In many health and safety prosecutions, a summons is received by a defendant with a first hearing date only weeks away. This can create considerable pressure for the defendant to consider the evidence against it and finalise its position before the first hearing. This is compounded by the significant increase in fines for corporate manslaughter, health and safety and food safety offences which were introduced in new sentencing guidelines in February 2016. In the first twelve months following the introduction of those guidelines, the court imposed 19 fines above £1m (there were 3 in 2015 and none in 2014) and the average fine increased by 102%. There has also been a sharp increase in the number of custodial or suspended sentences with 35 between October 2016 and April 2017 for workplace health and safety offences.
This new guideline re-iterates the need to get proper advice as soon as there has been an incident which may be prosecuted so that the defendant is prepared and ready to plead at the appropriate time.
Failing to act quickly could reduce the guilty plea sentencing discount which is particularly important because of the higher fines we are seeing following the introduction of the new sentencing guidelines.
For more information, please contact:
T: 02381 907002
T: 01204 677231