The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, which introduces a new offence of corporate manslaughter, was introduced in the House of Commons on 21 July.
The offence of ‘corporate killing’ was first proposed by the Law Commission in a 1996 report concerned with reforming the law of manslaughter as it applied both to individuals and corporate bodies.
Under current law, a corporation can only be prosecuted if there is sufficient evidence to prove that one of its directors or senior managers is guilty of manslaughter, as an individual. Therefore, the prosecution of a corporate body has nothing to do with whether there is evidence of serious management failures, but only whether a single senior person has caused death through gross negligence.
Although, technically, any corporate body – large or small – can be prosecuted for manslaughter, in reality it is very difficult to prosecute large- and medium-sized corporate bodies, even if there have been serious management failures, because it is difficult to identify one senior person responsible. Indeed, thus far only seven small organizations have been convicted.
The new Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill will cover Scotland as well as the rest of the UK. It will create a new criminal offence which will enable the courts to consider the overall picture of senior managers’ activities. An organisation could be found guilty if someone is killed as a result of the gross failure of the senior managers to ensure that working practices and premises are safe. If a company is found guilty of corporate manslaughter, the penalty will be an unlimited fine. Prosecution of individuals will not be possible under the Bill.
The Bill also lifts Crown immunity for the first time so that bodies such as Government departments and other public sector organizations, including the police, will be treated in the same way as the private sector when carrying out similar activities.