Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act comes into force

Monday, 21st Apr '08 at 13:01

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act came into force on the 6 April 2008.

Under the new law companies, organisations and, for the first time, government bodies face a criminal offence and larger fines if they are found to have caused death due to their gross corporate health and safety failures.

The Corporate Manslaughter Act is a landmark in law and the culmination of ten years of campaigning by unions and other groups.

Well-run businesses that already have effective systems in place for managing health and safety have nothing to fear from the new legislation. But employees of companies, consumers and other individuals will be offered greater protection against the worst cases of corporate negligence.

The new law will focus the minds of those in companies and other organisations by ensuring that they take health and safety obligations seriously.

Justice Minister Maria Eagle said,

'The law ensures improved justice for victims of corporate failures. The Act provides that companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter on the basis of gross corporate failures in health and safety.

'We are sending out a very powerful deterrent message to those organisations which do not take their health and safety responsibilities seriously.'

The Corporate Manslaughter Act:

  • Does not require organisations or businesses to comply with new regulatory standards. Well-run businesses who are complying with existing health and safety laws have nothing to fear from the new legislation.
  • Makes it easier to prosecute companies and other large organisations when gross failures in the management of health and safety lead to death by delivering a new, more effective basis for corporate liability.
  • Has reformed the law so that a key obstacle to successful prosecutions has now been removed. Until now, a company could only be convicted of manslaughter if a 'directing mind' (such as a director) at the top of the company was also personally liable.
  • Means that both small and large companies can be held liable for manslaughter where gross failures in the management of health and safety cause death, not just health and safety violations.
  • Does not apply to individual directors, senior managers or other individuals: it is concerned with the corporate liability of the organisation itself. However, where there is sufficient evidence, individuals can already be prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter and for health and safety offences. The Act does not change this position.
  • Lifts Crown immunity to prosecution. Crown bodies - such as government departments - will be liable to prosecution for the first time. So the Act will apply to companies and other corporate bodies, in the public and private sector, government departments, police forces and certain unincorporated bodies, such as partnerships, where these are employers.
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