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Executive Relief

Directors exempted under new corporate killing bill

The Government has introduced its long-awaited bill to create an offence of Corporate Manslaughter in England and Wales and Corporate Homicide in Scotland.

This will enable prosecutions to be brought against organisations in which failures of senior management amounting to gross negligence have resulted in deaths of employees or members of the public. The reception for this bill among the business community has been warmer than that received by previous versions because, although it provides for unlimited fines to be levied against guilty organisations, it will not result in prosecutions of individual directors.

Because guilt is “corporate” it will no longer – as is currently the case – be necessary to prove gross negligence on the part of any individual identified as the “controlling mind” of an organisation: an anomaly which currently sees canoeing instructors sent to prison while multi-national engineering firms get off Scot-free.

The Institute of Directors, has also welcomed the extension in scope of this bill to cover public bodies and to implement it uniformly throughout the UK. It is concerned, however, that the bill as it stands does not cover unincorporated bodies.
Asked what the point is of applying a criminal offence to an organisation rather than simply beefing up the fines imposed by the Health and Safety Executive, a Home Office spokesperson said it was case of “fair labelling of the offence”.

“Health and safety breaches are currently recorded as such, no matter how serious,” she continued. “This will make sure that, where a crime has taken place, it is recorded.”

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