Azara Blog: Corporate manslaughter bill might be introduced

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Date published: 2005/05/16

The BBC says:

Fresh from an election victory, the Labour government is widely expected to introduce a corporate manslaughter bill.

The government has invited consultation and comment on a proposed bill by 17 June 2005.

Under English law, there are two general homicide offences:

If someone kills without intending to cause death or serious injury, but was blameworthy in some other way, then this is often referred to as involuntary manslaughter.

Within the various categories of manslaughter, there is also the concept of gross negligence manslaughter. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, it has to be established that:

However, the problem lies in that for a company to be prosecuted for manslaughter, including gross negligence manslaughter, it is necessary to identify a "controlling mind" who is also personally guilty of manslaughter.

It is not possible under the present law to add up the negligence of several individuals to show the company as grossly negligent. A specific individual has to be identified as a controlling mind for corporate manslaughter to be proven.

After nearly five years of talking about it, the Home Office this spring finally published a document entitled "Corporate Manslaughter: The Government's Draft Bill for Reform".

Under the proposed legislation, an organisation is guilty of the offence of corporate manslaughter if the way in which any of the organisation's activities are managed or organised by the senior managers a) causes a person's death; and b) amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.

A person is a "senior manager" of an organisation if he plays a significant role in the making of decisions about how the whole or a substantial part of its activities is to be managed or organised; or the actual manager or organiser of the whole or a substantial part of those activities.

A gross breach is a breach of a duty of care by an organisation that falls far below what can reasonably be expected of the organisation in the circumstances.

To decide that question, the jury must consider whether the evidence shows that the organisation failed to comply with any relevant health and safety legislation or guidance.

The Draft Bill does set out a number of other factors which the jury will also have to consider, such as whether or not senior managers sought to cause the organisation to profit from its failure, ie that they deliberately cut corners to reduce costs or boost profits.

Needless to say one could substitute the word "corporate" with "goverment" and arrive at an equally valid analysis. For example, many deaths on the A14 are a direct result of a "gross breach" by the government and the reason nothing has been done is that the government has "deliberately cut corners to reduce costs". If the government is so keen to lock up company officials then let's also lock up government ministers and senior civil servants for similar offenses.

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