Corporate Manslaughter: What You Need to Know

Peter Clark

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21 Mar 2019

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Until 2008, it was both difficult and rare to convict a corporation for a criminal offence.

Before the Corporate Manslaughter Act (2007), you could only convict an organisation if an employee who embodies the “mind” of the corporation was responsible for committing all elements of the offence.

That's all very complicated, so let’s break it down for you.

What is corporate manslaughter?

It's when an organisation’s actions (or lack thereof) lead to the death of an individual. It's a criminal offence that applies to certain organisations, including:

  • Limited companies.
  • And some public bodies (local authorities and the NHS).

For an indictable offence, you must not only be responsible for a person’s death. You must also have committed a gross breach of the relevant duty of care you owe to the deceased.

Until 2008 it was very difficult to prove an organisation committed corporate manslaughter, meaning a change had to come.

Why was the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 introduced?

It was largely down to public discontent. Taxpayers were angry that organisations repeatedly committed crimes without repercussions.

The term "corporate manslaughter" was created when introducing the new act (if you live in Scotland, you might know the offence as "Corporate Homicide", it’s known as ‘corporate manslaughter’ in the rest of the UK).

This legislation meant holding organisations accountable for serious business failings resulting in death.

The previous law, namely gross negligence manslaughter, had significant limitations.

For the corporation as a whole to face conviction, an individual in a position of authority would have had to commit all elements of the offence.

The senior individual would have had to be “the controlling mind” of the corporation. For example, controlling the company’s values or influencing the direction of the company.

This meant if the company was guilty of gross negligence, it wouldn’t face conviction without an individual at the forefront of the charges.

So now, if an employee asks, “Why was the corporate manslaughter act introduced?” You can tell them definitively.

What is the punishment for corporate manslaughter?

Based on recommendations from the Sentencing Council, organisations found guilty of corporate manslaughter could receive an unlimited fine.

However, there's a wide variety of corporate manslaughter sentences from a financial standpoint.

Generally, the bigger your business, the bigger the fine. The calculation of fines is based on

  • The profitability of an organisation and their turnover.
  • Economic benefits derived from the offence will be added to the fine.
  • Whether the fine will have the effect of putting the offender out of business will be relevant; in some severe cases this may be an acceptable consequence.

The minimum fine you're likely to receive is £180,000, while the maximum is likely to reach around £20 million for firms with an annual turnover of more than £50 million.

While there was an increase in the number of convictions following the introduction of the act in 2007. The number actually convicted remains quite low- in the double figures.

This is likely due to the fact that—despite the changes making conviction simpler—the process remains complex.

There are much easier avenues to pursue in the event of serious accidents and death whilst under the duty of care of an organisation.

Which is why you need to ensure you take health & safety seriously.

Need more help?

If you’re concerned about any of the topics raised in this article you can visit the HSE page on corporate manslaughter or you can speak to a Croner health & safety expert on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Peter Clark joined Croner in 2018 as a Senior Health and Safety Consultant advising clients all on matters of health and safety compliance. Peter has over 15 years’ experience as a health and safety practitioner in many varied industry sectors including Manufacturing; Printing; Construction; Agriculture; Retail; Education; and the Care Sector.

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