Sheffield Occupational Health and Safety Association :: View topic - Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 8:44 pm Reply with quote Back to top
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force in the UK on 6 April 2008 and clarified the criminal liability of companies where serious failings in the management of health and safety result in a fatal incident.

More specifically the act applies where a body corporate (an organisation) is found to have serious management failings that amount to a 'gross breach' of a relevant duty of care owed by that organisation to the deceased individual - and the way in which its' activities are managed or organised by 'senior management' is considered a substantial element in the gross breach.

A 'gross breach' is where conduct is considered to "fall far below" what can be reasonably expected of the organisation in the circumstances - this is for a jury to determine.

'Senior management' is another seemingly unclear area for determination, but it can be assumed that senior management would include any persons who play a significant role in decision making of all or part of the organisations activities or a part in the actual managing or organising of these activities.

Dispelling some myths about Corporate Manslaughter:
The act:
  • introduces no additional duty of care;
  • will be used for the most serious cases;
  • does not change individual liabilities for manslaughter;

The act is considered a landmark in UK law as for the first time, companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.

The Ministry of Justice leads on the Act and more information is available on its Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 website.

Prosecutions will be of the corporate body and not individuals, but the liability of directors, board members or other individuals under health and safety law or general criminal law, will be unaffected. And the corporate body itself and individuals can still be prosecuted for separate health and safety offences.

Sentencing under the Act - Corporate Manslaughter Sentencing Guidelines

On 9 February 2010, the Sentencing Guidelines Council released the following press release and published guidelines on sentencing under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007:

In its final definitive guideline, the Council sets out principles to guide courts in dealing with companies and organisations that cause death through a gross breach of care or where breach of health and safety requirements are a significant cause of the death.

The advice is clear – punitive and significant fines should be imposed both to deter and to reflect public concern at avoidable loss of life. Fines for companies and organisations found guilty of corporate manslaughter may be millions of pounds and should seldom be below £500,000. For other health and safety offences that cause death, fines from £100,000 up to hundreds of thousands of pounds should be imposed.

In deciding the level of fine, account must be taken of the financial circumstances of the offending organisation. In the guideline the Council emphasises the need for a court to have full, accurate and reliable information and details the method for ensuring that it is consistently provided.

When fixing the fine, a court should not be influenced by the impact on shareholders and directors, nor consider the costs of complying with other sanctions. However, the effect on the employment of the innocent may be relevant, as may the effect on provision of services to the public.

Factors increasing the seriousness of the offence identified by the Council include the foreseeability of serious injury, whether non-compliance was common and widespread within the organisation, and how far up the organisation responsibility for the breach went.

Other factors that would aggravate the offence and raise the fine above the relevant minimum level include the number of deaths and serious injury caused, injury to vulnerable persons, failure to heed warnings or respond to near misses of a similar nature, cost-cutting, and deliberate failure to obtain or comply with relevant licences.

Publicity Orders - compelling companies and organisations to publish statements about their conviction for corporate manslaughter, details of the offence and the fine - are part of the penalty and should be imposed in virtually all cases.

Council member and Vice President of the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) Lord Justice Anthony Hughes said; "Fines cannot and do not attempt to value a human life – compensation will be assessed separately in these cases. These are serious offences and the fines must be punitive and substantial and have an impact on the company or organisation."

Sentencing Guidelines - Corporate Manslaughter & Health and Safety Offences Causing Death - Definitive Guideline

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