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Businesses could be defenceless under corporate killing laws says CBI

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Proposals for a new offence of corporate killing could leave companies defenceless because there are no clear tests of whether a firm is to blame.

The warning comes yesterday from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in response to a government plan for reforming manslaughter legislation.

The CBI argues that the proposals are unfair because firms could be convicted when they have no reasonable way of anticipating or reducing the risk. This would mean that a company could not cite the same defences available to an individual accused of a comparable crime.

The CBI argues that any new offence should apply to behaviour that wilfully or recklessly disregards foreseeable risks to employees and the general public.

It adds that it is quite proper to oblige firms to ensure the health and safety of employees, as far as reasonably practical and where there is reasonably foreseeable risk.

John Cridland, CBI Deputy Director-General, said: "The public needs reassurance that companies are accountable and the business community understands that. But the tests for this new offence must be fair on companies. Under the present proposals they are not and that could create unnecessary confusion and uncertainty."

The CBI adds that the government is right to encourage collective responsibility by holding organisations to account, rather than individual directors.

"If the law focuses responsibility on an individual, however senior, it runs the risk of others abdicating responsibility to the detriment of the team effort," said Mr Cridland.

"Everyone who works for an organisation must take reasonable care for their own health and safety and that of the people around them."

The CBI also believes the new offence should apply to state organisations, which are exempt under the current proposals.

It remains sceptical about the effectiveness of the new offence because firms already face unlimited fines under existing health and safety laws. Mr Cridland said: "It is not clear that this new offence would add a great deal to the powers the courts already have.

"If the government goes ahead then it needs to listen to our concerns. We would need a further round of consultations to pin down appropriate tests of responsibility."

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