Fleet News

Company manslaughter legislation a step closer

A CORPORATE manslaughter law which could see companies prosecuted over fatal accidents involving fleet drivers has come a step closer to reality.

The Government said it was determined to press ahead with the creation of the new offence after accepting a series of recommendations on the draft Bill by a pre-legislative scrutiny panel.

One of the concerns raised by the Home Affairs and Work and Pensions Committee was proposed tests for deciding whether companies should face criminal sanctions over management failings that had led to manslaughter.

The Government said it accepted MPs’ calls for a new test that ‘better captures the essence of corporate culpability’.

Fears were raised that the proposal of targeting individuals could lead to wrangling over the definition of a senior manager and discourage unpaid volunteers from taking on a management position.

The Government said the new Bill, which it is now redrafting, would have ‘a focus on the overall management of activities’. It added: ‘As far as individuals are concerned, the law already makes provision for holding individual directors and others to account where they have been grossly negligent or have contributed to health and safety failures.

‘We do not agree that the Bill should be used to revisit this framework. However, a conviction for corporate manslaughter will raise important questions about the management of a company and the Government is looking further at the interaction between legislation on disqualification of directors and the new offence.’

The Government intends to ‘legislate without delay as soon as Parliamentary time allows’.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) welcomed news that the Government is pressing ahead with the legislation.

Occupational safety adviser Roger Bibbings said: ‘Establishing a new offence that will enable corporations to be found guilty of manslaughter – as opposed to directors or individuals – has not been easy.

‘In practice, the key test will remain how to demonstrate evidence that an accidental death was due to management system failures, whether at board or supervisory level.

‘Juries will need to be convinced that standards of health and safety risk management in such cases fell ‘far below’ what might reasonably have been expected.’

Announcing the Bill last March, Government ministers stressed that ‘no new burdens will be placed on companies that already comply with health and safety legislation’.

It added: ‘Organisations taking a conscientious approach have nothing to fear.’

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