New corporate manslaughter law is a step closer to reality

Employers and unions have welcomed the news that the government is one step closer to introducing an offence of corporate manslaughter.

Last week, the government published its response to a joint report by the Home Affairs and Work and Pensions Committees, and said it intended to introduce a draft Bill “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

The Bill aims to make it easier to prosecute companies and public sector organisations where gross negligence leads to death. It will replace the need to find a ‘directing mind’ – a key difficulty in past prosecutions – with a focus on the overall management of activities.

The government rejected one of the recommendations of the joint committee – that individuals should be prosecuted as well as an organisation.
“As far as individuals are concerned, the law already makes provision for holding individual directors and others to account where they themselves have been grossly negligent or have contributed to health and safety failures,” the response said.

The Institute of Directors said that by promising not to prosecute individuals, the Home Office now had the opportunity, after five years of discussion, to put forward legislation that would “fill a gap in criminal law”. It also welcomed the government’s commitment to look again at whether management liability in the public sector could be more clearly defined. It said the Bill must not allow any exemptions for public bodies.

Unions also support the proposed Bill.

“The Health and Safety Commission is currently working on new safety duties for directors, and the combination of these and the Bill could help make a real difference to the health and safety of UK workers,” said TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber.

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