The proposed new criminal offence of corporate manslaughter, which could become law within months, will apply when someone has been killed because the senior management of a corporation has grossly failed to take reasonable care for the safety of employees or others.
It is designed to ensure that companies, rather than individuals, can be prosecuted, with prosecution leading to unlimited fines. The draft updates existing laws on corporate killing that insisted an individual had to be found guilty of an offence, rather than the company.
The new offence means police can look at a wider range of management conduct and focuses responsibility on the working practices of the organisation, as set by senior managers, rather than limiting investigations to questions of individual gross negligence by company bosses.
Ministers have stressed that no new burdens will be placed on companies that already comply with health and safety legislation. The Bill is a manifesto commitment of the Labour Party, although critics had claimed it was so controversial it would never see the light of day. In particular, delays were caused because of rows about how the law would affect the Government and whether it should be exempt.
But in a bid to create a ‘level playing field’, the proposals will apply to Crown bodies, such as Government departments, although some public and Government functions will be outside its scope.
Home Secretary Charles Clarke said: ‘Reforming the laws on corporate manslaughter is part of the Government’s wider agenda to modernise the criminal justice system – putting victims at the heart, protecting the public and ensuring that justice is done.
‘The draft Bill covers an extremely complex area of law and it has taken time to get the proposals right. The draft Bill aims to ensure that the law is effective in bringing organisations to account when they have shown a clear disregard for the law with fatal consequences for members of their workforce or others.’
However, the Confederation of British Industry said the Bill was only ‘half way there’.
John Cridland, CBI director general, said: ‘The draft Bill is right to focus on organisations and not individuals but company structures vary and it needs to be much clearer about who will be regarded as ‘senior management’.
The closing date for comments is June 12. For further details log onto www.homeoffice.gov.uk/docs4/con_corp_mans.html