The government’s long-awaited Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill has finally received royal assent, more than a decade after Labour came to power.
The Bill, which was part of the original 1997 Labour government’s manifesto, creates a new offence of corporate manslaughter in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and of corporate homicide in Scotland.
Companies where it is proved gross negligence led to the death of individuals will now face prosecution for manslaughter.
And, for the first time, government bodies will face an unlimited fine if the death is attributed to their gross corporate health and safety failures.
While company directors will not be held liable if corporate negligence led to the death of a worker, employees, consumers and other individuals will gain greater protection against corporate negligence under the new law, employment lawyers have suggested.
Some unions, such as construction union Ucatt, were disappointed that clauses that would have allowed company directors to be jailed if their negligence led to a worker’s death, were left out.
Yet, despite its perceived shortcomings, the TUC welcomed the Bill as hopefully “the start of a change in the safety culture at the top of the UK’s companies and organisations”.
“To make a real difference, we now need to ensure this law is accompanied by a new legal health and safety duty on directors and a requirement on companies to report annually on their workplace safety culture,” said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber.