Fleet News

Corporate manslaughter penalties to get tougher

Businesses falling foul of health and safety legislation or corporate manslaughter could face tougher sanctions if new rules are adopted.

The Sentencing Council, which issues guidelines on sentencing for the judiciary, has announced its recommendations for corporate man-slaughter and health and safety offences.

The new guidelines aim to “ensure sentences are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence while, as required by law, taking into account the financial circumstances of
the offender”.

This will include a review of the company’s annual turnover, which the fine will be based on. However, the new guidelines will take into account the company’s overall finances before confirming the amount.

“We want to ensure that these crimes don’t pay,” said Michael Caplan QC, a member of the Sentencing Council.

“They can have extremely serious consequences and businesses that put people at risk by flouting their responsibilities are undercutting those that maintain proper standards and do their best to keep people safe.”

Since the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act, the CPS has successfully prosecuted five companies for corporate manslaughter. However, none have been related to incidents involving at-work drivers.

In addition, seven other companies have been charged and those cases are either awaiting or undergoing trial.

Meanwhile, police are considering whether to charge the first company under corporate manslaughter for a fleet-related death.

Frys Logistics is being investigated after one of its drivers fell asleep at the wheel and killed two charity cyclists (Fleet News, September 19). The driver was jailed for eight-and-a-half years and the company could now face a charge of corporate manslaughter. Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed that investigations are ongoing.

Malcolm McHaffie, deputy head of special crime at the CPS, told Fleet News that corporate manslaughter cases were complex and handled by specialist lawyers.
“While a number do result in corporate manslaughter charges, some may also result in prosecutions for offences other than those under the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act,” he said.

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings was the first company to be convicted in 2011. Cavendish Masonry was found guilty this year and ordered to pay £237,000 in fines and costs.

Lion Steel’s fine of £480,000 in 2012 is the biggest issued under the legislation.

Legal expert Rhys Griffiths, from Fieldfisher, isn’t impressed. He said: “The corporate manslaughter act was introduced to great fanfare, but the reality is that it has
been ineffectual.”

The new act was created after a number of failed, high-profile prosecutions, such as the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, proved the old law of corporate manslaughter incapable of prosecuting large companies.

Griffiths added: “The only prosecutions brought have involved small and medium-sized companies. This is not how the act was meant to work.”

In spite of the underwhelming use of the act, he believes the risk of a prosecution still remains. “Fleet operators are therefore well-advised to maintain effective safety management systems, not only to prevent the occurrence of accidents in the first place, but also to fall back upon as a defence if an accident does occur,” said Griffiths.

“This system needs to be one which is actually implemented in practice. All too often, we find that health and safety policy documents are too aspirational and are impossible to implement practically. That is a real own goal.

“It allows prosecutors to make the point that the company is so bad it does not even comply with its own health and safety policy.”

Another major issue is the proper identification and training of employees who are responsible for health and safety.

Griffiths said: “A court will have little time for a company which has a bells and whistles health and safety policy if it is then implemented by individuals who do not know what they are doing.”


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