You might be surprised that offence of corporate manslaughter is a fairly recent addition to UK law. It was introduced in 2007 and became actual law in 2008.
Here we take a closer look at what the offence of corporate manslaughter is and who or what it affects.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 brought a major change to the legal landscape.
Prior to it, a business could not be convicted of manslaughter unless there was a person who could be identified as personally liable. Unfortunately, in very large organisations pinning the responsibility on one particular person and proving they were negligent was difficult. That meant there were very few prosecutions.
The purpose of the current act is to address this issue where the organisation could be held to account and what sorts of punishment can be used by the courts.
Rather than look at individuals, the courts will consider issues such as the management processes that were in place within the organisation and how these contributed to a particular fatality. Juries need to look at whether the company or corporation itself has met their duty of care in respect of health and safety.
For example, it could mean looking at the culture which exists in a corporation, whether it was all about making profit and put individuals at risk because there was a such a blind drive for success. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one person can be held accountable but considers the role of the organisation and the way it operates as a whole entity.
While corporate manslaughter relates to the organisation, that doesn’t mean individuals within the company are exempt from prosecution. Gross negligence manslaughter has been covered under our health and safety law for much longer.
This means that individuals such as directors can be liable for prosecution if there is enough evidence to show that they were negligent and it’s in the public interest to take them to court.
There was some debate as to whether this part of the law needed to be strengthened with longer sentences for directors and other individuals with senior roles who may be culpable.
The current guidelines now allow for life sentences to be awarded for the most serious offenders, with a minimum term of imprisonment of 18 years. This might include an employer who has had a long history of negligent practice and has shown complete disregard for the safety of the people working for them.
The first companies that were convicted of corporate manslaughter following the introduction of the law were relatively small enterprises but recent cases have included larger corporations.
Of course, you can’t sentence a corporation to a prison term. But you can fine them. The current penalties for a company convicted of corporate manslaughter include the imposition of an unlimited fine. They will also be asked to make a public admission of their conviction and put in place measures to ensure that the issues which caused the fatal injury are addressed.