The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into effect on the 6th April 2008. For the first time, companies and organisations could be found guilty of corporate manslaughter and face criminal prosecution as a result of serious management failures resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.
While the Act is not one that deals with issues of health and safety, the effect of it is that health and safety systems and procedures have to be evaluated carefully. The Act does not impose new standards: it simply introduces a new offence for not complying with current laws - namely health and safety laws.
What is the offence?
An organisation will be guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a death, and amounts to a gross breach of a duty of care to the deceased.
The offence is called corporate manslaughter, or in Scotland, corporate homicide.
What does this mean for my organisation?
Employees of companies, consumers and other individuals now have protection against corporate negligence. The law should gain the attention of companies and organisations, and prompt action to ensure that health and safety obligations are taken seriously.
The law complements previous, related law under which individuals can be prosecuted for gross negligence, manslaughter and health and safety offences, if there is direct evidence of the business' involvement. It is now easier than ever for companies large and small to be prosecuted.
How should a business react?
If you are in charge of health and safety, you should consider carefully about how risks are managed, planning for them. Legal compliance with current H&S laws is paramount. For example, you should conduct H&S risk assessments and implement up-to-date fire safety practices so as to the compliant with fire safety law.
If your business is prosecuted, the test will be whether your conduct fell far below what could have been reasonably expected. Juries will have to take into account any health and safety breaches by your organisation, and how serious and dangerous those failures were.
An organisation guilty of the offence will be liable to an unlimited fine.
The Act also provides for courts to impose a publicity order, requiring the organisation to publicise details of its conviction and fine. Courts may also require an organisation to take steps to address the failures behind the death (a remedial order).