Corporate killing law: how far will the Government go?

Business leaders support Government proposals for a corporate manslaughter Bill that would not include prosecution of individual directors for workplace casualties.

Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said: “I think that in a large company, particularly, itÍs very difficult to see how one individual can be clearly seen as ultimately responsible, because of the size and complexity of large organisations.

“Would that necessarily be the best way of ensuring that, if there is any form of negligence, it doesn’t happen again?” he asked. “I’m not sure that is the best way forward.”

The Institute of Directors’ head of corporate governance, Patricia Peter, said the organisation is “pleased”  that the Government has opted not to seek the prosecution of individuals under the proposed legislation.

She believes the threat of bad publicity for companies accused of corporate killing provides at least one incentive for businesses to take their responsibilities seriously.

“People will know, and other companies will know who those directors involved in making those bad decisions are,” Peter said.

“I think what a lot of people fail to recognise is that companies, and certainly investors in companies, are increasingly aware of corporate reputation.

“Investors are looking more and more to companies to show that they are acting responsibly, that they do have proper risk management and risk assessment systems in place, and that these things are being discussed and considered at board level,” she said.

“Obviously, successful prosecution will also be necessary if the law isn’t to fall by the wayside. It’s got to be framed in such a way that it’s possible to secure a conviction. Otherwise it will be no more helpful than the existing law.”

Mike Elliker, legal director of law firm Addleshaw Goddard, believes that, as proposed, the new legislation will actually make convictions easier than they are under the current set-up.

Under the new laws, it will not be necessary to pinpoint one specific act that has led to a death. Instead, several interconnected issues can be identified – such as failures to train properly, supervise staff and have a proper system of work in place – which, taken together, constitute a serious management failure.

“It doesn’t have to be one act by one individual,” said Elliker. “So to that extent, it will make it easier to convict a company of the offence of corporate killing.”

Despite business’ views, UK unions are pressing forward with a proposed private member’s Bill that would hold individual directors to account.

A spokesman for the Transport and General Workers’ Union (T&G) said that unionists were hopeful Labour MP Stephen Hepburn of Jarrow will take forward the Bill proposed by the T&G and the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT).

Although the Government has committed itself to the legislation, for which a draft has not yet been released, Elliker is among the legal experts who question whether the Government will finally bring such laws to fruition.

“The first point that arises is whether the Government is in fact really serious about introducing it”î he said. “There have been suggestions for something like four years that this was going to be implemented, and that is a long time for a matter to be left in abeyance if the Government is really serious about introducing the change.”


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