New Ruling on Reduction of Sentence for an Early Guilty Plea


New Ruling on Reduction of Sentence for an Early Guilty Plea

07 Sep 2017

Previous updates have extensively covered the new sentencing guidelines for health and safety offences which have seen fines jump tenfold. 

This has considerably increased the stakes and directors of companies can be faced with the prospect of a massive fine.  Most recently the bakery firm Warburtons was fined £1.9 million when a worker sustained friction burns on his arm which became trapped in a conveyor belt.  This followed a £2 million fine for noncompliance with work at height regulations in January. 

If defendants plead guilty early they can get a one third reduction in the fine and given the size of fines there is considerable pressure to obtain a reduction by pleading guilty rather than defending the case in court.  A new ruling, however, means that from June this year the guilty plea must be entered at the first magistrates’ court hearing.  After that it reduces considerably down to one tenth if the guilty plea is not entered until first day of the trial.  This can be difficult for defendants of health and safety cases.  In a normal criminal case the defendant usually knows whether or not they are actually guilty.  In health and safety cases a company or individual may need time to assess whether their actions constituted a breach of criminal law duty especially when trying to assess whether the actions taken were reasonably practicable.  The danger is that defendants may be rushed into entering an early guilty plea without the benefit of properly assessing their legal position. 

Companies must ensure that whenever there is an accident or an incident where the authorities have become involved it must be thoroughly investigated as early as possible to ensure that the company is prepared should it develop into a criminal investigation.  With the transient nature of events this means gathering as much information from observation, documentation and witnesses as early as possible.



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