Royal Assent granted to Corporate Manslaughter legislation
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Home > News > Personal Injury News

15th August 2007

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act Receives Royal Assent

After more than a decade of lobbying and consultation, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act received Royal Assent on 26 July 2007, and will become law from April 2008. The Act will apply from that date to gross management failures and the legislation will play a vital role in reducing deaths at work by improving health and safety.

The need for this legislation had been identified as far back as 1987, following the aftermath of the P&O Ferries Zebrugge disaster. Several reports were issued in the following years and the Labour Government committed in 1997 to bringing in the new offence. Consultation documents followed and the Bill was reviewed several times by both the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The sticking point was the rejection by MP’s of peers’ demands to include deaths in police and prison custody within the law.

Despite the general welcoming of this legislation, there remain many exemptions, including those affecting the prosecution of crown bodies. Whilst the government has conceded the exemption regarding custody deaths (though it will not become active until a later date), many more remain. Deaths of members of the public resulting from crown bodies may not result in a prosecution in many circumstances, regardless of gross negligence by the organisation.

Large or medium-sized companies have never been the subject of a successful prosecution. However, the test no longer requires a single individual, director or senior manager to be identified before the company can be prosecuted. It is anticipated that this change will lead to future prosecutions for deaths resulting from the activities of such companies. Until tested by the Crown Prosecution Services, it is impossible to estimate how many prosecutions will be brought, or won.

There is some conjecture that the legislation could have been stronger and that the government have missed an opportunity for more radical reform to have been carried out. A new legal test could have been introduced that would have resulted in more prosecutions for organisations who are grossly negligent, and the requirement to link negligence to the senior managers is seen by some as too restrictive.

No organisation would wish to be prosecuted under this new offence. However, if they are already compliant with heath and safety law, the new offence will not impose additional obligations on their organisation. Those who do not currently comply should ensure they are fully compliant with the new legislation.

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