Fines have increased for organizations sentenced for food safety and hygiene offenses following the introduction of new guidelines in England and Wales.
An impact assessment of guidelines by the Sentencing Council also showed there was an unanticipated small rise in fines for individuals sentenced for food safety and hygiene offenses. The increase in fines was not as large as that for health and safety violations.
The Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food Safety and Hygiene Offences guideline for England and Wales came into force in 2016. The Sentencing Council is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Ministry of Justice that issues guidelines on sentencing for courts to follow.
It covers offenses committed by organizations or individuals as part of business activities in England and Wales. They do not cover the prosecutions of individuals for offenses committed in their private lives or food fraud offenses.
The aim was to help magistrates to ensure the levels of fines imposed for these offenses were proportionate based on the offender’s circumstances and reflected the seriousness of the offense.
For food safety and hygiene offenses, the guideline has four categories of culpability and three of harm.
The number of organizations sentenced for food safety and hygiene offenses more than doubled from around 60 in 2013 to 130 in 2016 but has since remained stable. The vast majority are sentenced in magistrates’ courts (97 percent in 2017).
Most organizations received a fine (94 percent in 2017). An analysis of fine amounts comparing 10 months pre-guideline with 10 months post-guideline found the mean amount increased from £2,200 ($2,900) pre-guideline to £7,100 ($9,300) post-guideline. The median also increased, from £1,500 ($1,900) to £2,500 ($3,300).
A greater proportion of organizations received a fine at the higher end of £4,000 ($5,200) or more. This rate increased from 11 percent pre-guideline to 34 percent post-guideline.
The number of adult offenders sentenced for food safety and hygiene offenses increased from 180 in 2015 to 260 in 2017. Most are sentenced in magistrates’ courts (92 percent in 2017).
In 2017, a fine was imposed on 92 percent of offenders. A further three percent received a suspended sentence, two percent got a community order, and less than one percent were sentenced to immediate custody.
The mean fine amount increased from around £930 ($1,200) to £1,300 ($1,700) post-guideline, whereas the median rose from £500 ($653) to £520 ($679). There was a small increase in the proportion of adult offenders receiving a fine of £2,000 ($2,600) or more, from 13 percent to 17 percent.
Lord Justice Tim Holroyde, Sentencing Council chairman, said the law requires that any fine must reflect the seriousness of the offense and account for financial circumstances of the offender.
“The council is confident the guideline is achieving this objective and ensuring that where an offense results in the loss of life or very serious injury, fines are sufficiently punitive.”
The analysis suggests the guideline is generally being applied in the manner intended. The Council intends to investigate further the operation of the guideline and will consider whether a revision is necessary.
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