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Corporate manslaughter is when a business or organisation is responsible for another person’s death. It is a criminal offence, and if convicted, can result in a fine, Remedial Order and Publicity Order.
Has your company or organisation been accused of corporate manslaughter? Contact us now at Ashmans Solicitors. We are highly experienced criminal defence lawyers and can help you fight the charges. We have offices in London, Leeds, Sheffield, Huddersfield and Dewsbury. If you live in England or Wales, we can help you.
Corporate manslaughter and the law
Corporate manslaughter is a criminal offence. It is governed by the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which came into force on 6 April 2008.
At its most basic, corporate manslaughter is when a business or organisation is responsible for another person’s death. More specifically, it is when a business or organisation owed the deceased a duty of care, but there was a gross breach of this duty of care, which in turn contributed towards the victim’s death.
A common example is a work-related accident. Employers have a legal obligation to protect the health and safety of their employees. This can be achieved in a number of ways, most notably by following health and safety regulations. If there was a failure to meet this duty of care, resulting in a workplace death, then the employer could be accused of corporate manslaughter.
Who can be charged with corporate manslaughter?
It is not just employers that can be charged with corporate manslaughter. In fact, corporate manslaughter charges can be brought against any of the following:
- A corporation
- A government department or other body, including NHS Trusts, Department of Health, Department for Education, DEFRA, Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, and the Welsh Government
- A police force
- A partnership, a trade union or employer’s association, that is also an employer
An individual cannot be charged with corporate manslaughter. If there are individual failings, then the person in question may face gross manslaughter charges. These charges can be brought alongside a corporate manslaughter charge.
In addition, the deceased’s family may choose to bring a civil claim. This is known more commonly as a personal injury claim. If successful, it will result in the payment of damages. However, the outcome of the criminal case does not necessarily have any bearing on the outcome of the civil case.
When will a company be found guilty of corporate manslaughter?
As with all criminal charges, the prosecution must prove that a business or organisation is guilty of corporate manslaughter. There are specific criteria that must be established if the judge or jury is to return a guilty verdict.
1. The defendant is a qualifying organisation
Only certain entities can be charged with corporate manslaughter. The scope is quite broad, but there are some exemptions. If a business or organisation does not fall into the qualifying criteria, then it cannot face corporate manslaughter charges.
2. The organisation owed a relevant duty of care to the deceased
In law, there is a concept known as a “duty of care”. This is when you have a legal responsibility to ensure the health and safety of another party. This duty of care exists in so many situations. Employers have a duty of care towards their employees. Medical practitioners have a duty of care towards their patients. A driver of a vehicle owes a duty of care towards their passengers and anyone else on the roads. For the corporate manslaughter charges to be upheld, a duty of care must have existed between the defendant and the deceased.
3. There was a gross breach of duty by the organisation
If a duty of care did exist, then the prosecution must show that a gross breach of duty occurred. In defining a gross breach, the law states that:
“a breach of a duty of care by an organisation is a “gross” breach if the conduct alleged to amount to a breach of that duty falls far below what can reasonably be expected of the organisation in the circumstances”.
In the past, judges have described this as a breach that is “truly, exceptionally bad” and “so bad that it amounts to a crime and [is] deserving of punishment”. There is no set line that a business or organisation might cross which would, in turn, make them guilty of corporate manslaughter. It might include a poor attitude towards health and safety, serious failings in the implementation of health and safety legislation, and encouraging such failings amongst staff.
4. Senior management had a role to play in the breach
Senior management must have played a role in the breach of duty. This is to ensure that an organisation is not held responsible for failings made by junior staff, which would be unfair.
In the past, the law stated that the ‘controlling mind’ of the organisation had to be involved. This is no longer the case. However, anyone who plays a significant role in the organisation may fall under the category of senior management. This will be fact-specific but could include managers and regional managers.
Prosecution cases often fail on this point, as it can be hard to prove that senior management was responsible for systemic failings.
5. The gross breach caused or contributed to the death
Finally, there must be an element of causation. In other words, the gross breach of duty must have caused or contributed to the deceased’s death. It does not necessarily have to be the sole cause or the main cause of death. Nevertheless, it must be a contributing factor.
What are the penalties for corporate manslaughter?
The penalty for corporate manslaughter is fine. A business or organisation cannot be sent to prison, so there is no prospect of a jail sentence unless an individual is also charged with gross negligence manslaughter.
In theory, the fine is unlimited. When sentencing, the judge must decide what is appropriate. This will depend on the size of the organisation. The fine should be sufficient to punish the entity, but not so extensive that it forces insolvency proceedings. Sentencing guidelines suggest the fine for corporate manslaughter should lie within the range of £180,000 to £20 million.
The judge may order additional penalties, such as the payment of the prosecution’s costs. The business or organisation may be subject to a Remedial Order, which demands that the company changes their practices in order to comply with health and safety legislation. The judge may also impose a Publicity Order, which requires a business or organisation to publicise the fact that it has been convicted of corporate manslaughter.
Sometimes, the business or organisation has already shut up shop, by the time the case is heard in court. The case will continue, but the outcome will be purely academic.
Corporate manslaughter cases the UK
Although the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act came into effect in 2008, there have been relatively few convictions.
One example is the case of Linley Developments, which was fined £200,000 after a worker was crushed when a structurally unsound retaining wall collapsed. The managing director was told that the footing of the existing wall needed to be underpinned, but he told the workers to continue digging regardless. The managing director, along with the project manager, were also given suspended sentences.
Another example is that of Baldwins Crane Hire Limited, which was fined £700,000 after a crane operator was killed while driving a crane down an access road. An investigation found the accident had been caused by serious problems with the braking system, which had not been properly maintained.
Successful prosecutions have also been brought against care homes, engineering firms, sports clubs and mining companies.
Are you facing corporate manslaughter charges?
If your business or organisation is facing corporate manslaughter charges, then you need to speak to our criminal defence solicitors straight away. These are serious allegations and may be accompanied by the additional charge of gross negligence manslaughter. It is essential that you have experienced defence counsel on your side, or your business could face a substantial fine, along with severe reputational damage. If you have also been accused of gross negligence manslaughter, then you could be handed a prison sentence.
If you or your business is facing manslaughter charges, we can help.
Call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We provide free police station representation.