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Corporate Manslaughter

Corporate manslaughter is a criminal offence where a business or organisation is found to have caused a person’s death. A business can be prosecuted for the offence of corporate manslaughter if the way its activities are managed causes death through a gross breach of duty of care to the deceased person. It will need to be shown that this breach was to a significant extent caused by the decisions taken by senior management. Although not officially part of health and safety law, corporate manslaughter is classed as a criminal offence.

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Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

The offence of Corporate Manslaughter was created by the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 and is applicable to companies and other organisations where serious failings have resulted in a death. The Act, which came into force on 6 April 2008, clarifies the criminal liabilities of companies including large organisations where serious failures in the management of health and safety have resulted in a fatality.

Its introduction was in response to a number of large-scale disasters during the 1990s and attempts to impose criminal responsibility on organisations where gross negligence has resulted in the death of an employee. The act introduced a new element into the corporate management of health and safety in the workplace.

The Corporate Manslaughter Test

A jury will consider how a business manages the activities that led to the fatal incident. This will include any processes and systems for managing health and safety, and how these were implemented in practice. What failures occurred that led to the accident?

For a business to be in gross breach of a duty of care, its actions will need to have fallen far below what might be reasonably expected in the circumstances. Most of this failure will need to have been caused by senior management. These are the people who make the big decisions within the business and will include centralised functions at the company headquarters, as well as those in charge of operational management where the accident happened. Juries will consider any health and safety breaches by the organisation and how serious they were.

Understanding Duty of Care

Companies have duties of care that they need to meet. These include:

  • The overall conditions of worksites and other premises.
  • The condition of the equipment used by employees.
  • The products and services supplied to customers.

Corporate manslaughter doesn’t create any new duties for companies.

Instead, prosecutions proceed on existing health and safety rules.

An example of corporate manslaughter

Aster Healthcare Ltd, a company that owns and operates care homes, was convicted of corporate manslaughter in 2021 after a vulnerable elderly woman in their care suffered burns while being bathed. The company pleaded guilty to corporate manslaughter and was fined £1.04 million.

As well as the corporate manslaughter conviction of the company, staff were also prosecuted using existing health and safety legislation. The care home manager was given 9 months in prison, suspended for 18 months after admitting a failure to discharge a duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of the resident. A carer, who admitted failing to discharge a duty to take reasonable care for the health and safety of the resident, was sentenced to 16 weeks in prison, which was suspended for 18 months.

This case illustrates how corporate manslaughter cases will also involve the prosecution of individuals employed within the organisation for breaches in the duty of care associated with their role within the company.

Corporate Manslaughter FAQs

Who might be criminally liable for Corporate Manslaughter?

Corporate manslaughter prosecutions will apply to the corporate body itself, not particular individuals. Senior managers and owners of businesses are not personally prosecuted for corporate manslaughter. They may be prosecuted for other offences related to failures in health and safety management. This might include gross negligence manslaughter, as well as health and safety offences. Corporate manslaughter law does not remove liability in such instances, and individuals may still be prosecuted where there is enough evidence and it’s considered in the public interest. Individual members of staff and directors may be called as witnesses in a criminal trial for corporate manslaughter.

How is corporate manslaughter proven?

For corporate manslaughter to be proven it will need to be shown that:

  • The defendant is a qualifying organisation.
  • The organisation had a duty of care to the deceased person.
  • There was a gross breach of that duty of care by the organisation.
  • A substantial element of that was the way in which its activities were managed by senior management.

In most workplace incidents there is usually a range of factors that led to the fatality. Fault will usually be attributed to a range of different elements coming together. Demonstrating that senior management failure played a substantial cause in the duty of care breach is the biggest challenge to overcome in proving corporate manslaughter cases. As a result, the bulk of convictions have involved smaller companies, where a senior manager connected to the gross breach of duty of care, could easily be identified.

What are the potential penalties?

Conviction of corporate manslaughter carries an unlimited fine. This fine must be enough to punish the organisation, but not large enough to put the company out of business or inadvertently cause harm to other employees. Guidelines suggest that the fine should constitute 5% of the company’s annual turnover, followed by 10% if there are any subsequent incidents. This means that it can rise to several million pounds for larger companies. Prosecution costs may also be awarded against the organisation, and courts have the ability to impose ‘remedial orders’ on companies that publicise the nature of the conviction.

Prevention is better than a cure

How Richardson Lissack can help

If a fatality has occurred within your company it’s important to receive experienced legal assistance as soon as possible.

Our lawyers are available to assist you and provide legal advice.

Contact London 020 3753 5352 or Manchester 0161 834 7284. Alternatively you can email info@richardsonlissack.co.uk

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