Corporate manslaughter

The passing of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, to introduce a statutory offence of ‘Corporate manslaughter’ (called ‘Corporate Homicide’ in Scotland) followed many years of promises by the UK Government to reform the law of corporate manslaughter.

The new offence came into force on 6 April 2008.

It is important to emphasise that the Act is an offence-creating statute rather than a duty-setting one. The Act itself imposes no new health and safety duties. In other words, the Act is solely designed to make it easier to prosecute organisations where their gross negligence leads to death. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 remains as the duty-creating statute in terms of health and safety, and prosecutions under this legislation co-exist with potential prosecutions for corporate manslaughter under the Act.

An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised:

• causes a person’s death, and.
• amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.

Although the Act has brought no new duties, it poses a natural reason and opportunity for organisations to review their safety management approach, their organisational framework and the systems underpinning them.

The offence of corporate manslaughter is an indictable-only offence, meaning that it will automatically be heard by the Crown Court. The sanction upon conviction (as it relates to a corporate entity only and therefore cannot include imprisonment) is a (potentially) unlimited fine, although, from a reputational perspective, perhaps the greater sanction will be the stigma of being branded a ‘corporate killer’.