Food offenders 'may face larger fines'

New sentencing guidelines may push up fines for food businesses that put customers at risk, according to the Sentencing Council.

Mr Justice Holroyde, a High Court judge and member of the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, said he was aware some practitioners felt food safety fines were not acting as a deterrent.

He told delegates at the Institute of Food Safety Integrity & Protection (TiFSiP) food law conference, in London, this week: ‘The council is aware that while there is general agreement that financial penalties are appropriate for these offences, we believe there is some concern that fine levels are too low to serve as a deterrent to the offender.’

Mr Holroyde stressed that the guidelines, which came into affect last month, will allow courts to take into account the risk of harm rather than just actual harm caused by food hygiene offences.

‘Because we now include risk of harm at each level, that means some offences that previously may only have been at the lowest category of harm - therefore getting a lower fine - may now come within the higher category,’ he said.

‘That wasn’t the reason for making the change but the consequence maybe that it may address some of the concerns that fines for food offences won’t act as a suitable deterrent for offenders.’

The guidelines state firms found guilty of food offences could face fines between £100 and £3m.

The most serious category of harm now includes offences that create ‘a high risk of an adverse effect on individuals’. This means smaller firms could receive fines of up to £450,000 and the largest firms could receive fines of up to £3m even if people are not actually hurt.

The guidelines follow concerns expressed in Professor Chris Elliott’s review of the UK food system that food law offences were receiving ‘a low level of sanctions’.

TiFSiP will be publishing Mr Justice Holroyde's talk in full on its website.


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