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‘Corporate killing’ bill by end December

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Home Office LogoAccording to the Centre for Corporate Accountability, the Home Office has committed itself to publishing a draft bill on corporate killing by the end of December 2003 – even though there was no mention of legal reform in the Queen’s speech. Reform of the law is a Labour Party manifesto commitment.

Companies can under the current law be prosecuted for manslaughter. So the offence of ‘corporate manslaughter’ does exist in current law.

What the Government is planning to do is to enact a new offence of ‘Corporate Killing’. This would allow a company, or any other employing organisation, to be prosecuted for causing a death as a result of a very serious management failure on the part of the organisation.

In effect, the new offence will make it easier to prosecute a company or other employing organisation for a homicide offence.

The reason for the proposal is that it is difficult under existing criminal law to prosecute a company, particularly large companies, for manslaughter. This is because the current legal test is whether or not there is sufficient evidence to prosecute a director or senior manager, the ‘controlling mind’ of the company, for manslaughter This, however, requires evidence of ‘gross negligence’.

If there is sufficient evidence, the company can be prosecuted. But the company will only be found guilty of manslaughter if the individual can be found guilty of manslaughter.

The guilt of a company is, therefore, entirely dependent upon the guilt of an individual director or senior manager. Large companies which delegate safety decisions to managers low down the hierarchy, can escape prosecution even though there may well be serious management failures in the company that caused the death.

This is why a new offence of ‘Corporate Killing’ has been proposed.

The wording of the core offence was first proposed by the Law Commission in 1996, and accepted by the Government in its consultation document published in 2000.

  1. A corporation is guilty of corporate killing if:

    1. a management failure by the corporation is the cause or one of the causes of a person’s death; and
    2. that failure constitutes conduct falling far below what can reasonably be expected of the corporation in the circumstances.


  2. For the purposes of subsection (1) above:

    1. there is a management failure by a corporation if the way in which its activities are managed or organised fails to ensure the health and safety of persons employed in or affected by those activities; and
    2. such a failure may be regarded as a cause of a person’s death notwithstanding that the immediate cause is the act or omission of an individual.


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