For the smallest, “micro”, organisations (turnover of up to £2 million) convicted of an offence of lower culpability the usual starting point is £300,000 – in limited circumstances the range has a base level at £180,000.
The Sentencing Council considered the dataset for corporate manslaughter too small to be of practical use, but the equivalent material for health and safety prosecutions shows that the average (mean) fine imposed has increased from £41,400 in 2011 to £46,000 in 2013. A quarter of fines in 2013 were larger than £60,000, and a quarter under £5,000. Only 5 per cent of convicted defendants received fines of over £225,000. It is clear that the new guideline seeks to fundamentally shift the size and range of fines upwards, particularly towards the upper end.
The new guideline sets out in detail the proper procedure for the calculation of fines. A convicted defendant organisation must provide to the court comprehensive accounts for the last three years, in order that its financial status can be accurately assessed. Companies and partnerships must provide annual accounts (preferably audited), and courts will pay particular attention to turnover, pre-tax profits, assets and directors’ remuneration, loan accounts and pension provision. Should a court not be satisfied that sufficient reliable information has been provided it may infer that the offender can pay any fine.
Fines are expected to meet the objectives of punishment, the reduction of offending through deterrence and removal of gain derived through the commission of the offence. Significantly, the guideline requires fines to be “sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact”, in order to “bring home to management and shareholders the need to achieve a safe environment for workers and members of the public affected by their activities.” In some circumstances putting a convicted organisation out of business may be an acceptable consequence.