Our ref: TO12/4746
Thank you for your email of 7 August about charges brought against and sentencing of people found guilty of manslaughter (copy below). Your email has been passed to the Sentencing Policy and Penalties Unit at the Ministry of Justice and I have been asked to respond.
In your e-mail you set out concerns that gas engineers are treated severely by the law, and compare this to how doctors who are grossly negligent are treated. You also ask if charges for gross manslaughter will be brought in a case of possible medical negligence at Thames Hospital, a case which was reported in a BBC news article.
I hope you will understand that neither Ministers nor their officials can comment on the details of particular cases. Decisions on whether or not to charge a person with an offence are a matter for the police and Crown Prosecution Service, and decisions on sentences for convicted offenders are a matter for the independent courts. As an official within one of the Ministry of Justice's policy units, I can only explain how the law operates in more general terms in cases of this type.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is responsible for reviewing and, where appropriate, prosecuting most criminal cases in England and Wales following an investigation by the police. All cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are reviewed in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. The reviewing lawyer must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and must conclude that it is in the public interest to bring the prosecution before proceeding with a charge. Once satisfied that an appropriate conviction is obtainable given the evidence available, the appropriate charges will be brought.
With regard to sentencing, it is the responsibility of Government and Parliament to provide a sentencing framework which gives the courts sufficient powers to deal with the range of offences and offenders which come before them. Within that framework, it is for the courts to determine the appropriate sentence taking account of all the circumstances of each case.
A court is required to pass a sentence that reflects the seriousness of the offence. The seriousness of an offence is determined by both the culpability or blameworthiness of the offender and the harm caused or risked being caused by the offence. Sentencing guidelines for a particular offence will normally include a list of aggravating features which, if present in an individual instance of the offence, would indicate either a higher than usual level of culpability on the part of the offender, or a greater than usual degree of harm caused by the offence. This assessment of seriousness is taken into account by the court in determining which of the sentencing thresholds has been crossed, indicating whether a custodial, community or other sentence is the most appropriate. It will also form the key factor in deciding the length of a custodial sentence, the intensity of requirements to be incorporated in a community sentence or the amount of any fine imposed.
While the offence of manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, it has one of the widest range of sentences of any offences. This is because the range of situations in which a manslaughter conviction can arise is so wide. Courts will treat every case on its merits, and use their discretion to impose a sentence which they consider reflects the culpability and harm involved.
''Dear Sir or Madam
For some time I have been concerned at the way Gas Engineers who make a mistake or are negligent are treated very severely under the law . If a death ensues they are usually charged with manslaughter due to gross negligence and if found guilty the going tariff seems to be 3 to 5 years in jail. This contrasts with the medical profession who are rarely similarly charged . I am yet to discover a similar case of a doctor or member of the medical profession being jailed (this of course does not include Shipman whose crimes were deliberate).
I note a recent case before the coroners
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-19151918 Emma Stones Tameside Hospital. Is there going to be charges of manslaughter due to gross negligence considered in this case? Undoubtedly if a gas engineer had acted so negligently he would have been so charged and if found guilty jailed.
With thanks for your attention