Unlimited fines for corporate manslaughter

Published:  28 April, 2009

UK: Companies could be fined between 2.5% and 10% of their turnover for committing the Corporate Manslaughter offence. The court may also impose a publicity order, which requires the organisation to publicise in a specified manner the fact that it has been convicted of the offence, the specified particulars of the offence, the amount of any fine imposed, and the terms of any remedial order made.

It is anticipated that the Sentencing Guidelines Council will be issuing its guidance for the Court, later this year.

The new law is designed to increase the amount of convictions of corporate manslaughter by removing the necessity to identify and establish the guilt of a directing mind. It focuses on 'management failure', referring to the way in which the organisation's activities were managed or organised.

As Justice Minister, Maria Eagle, stated: "We are sending out a very powerful deterrent message to those organisations which do not take their health and safety responsibilities seriously."

Companies should be aware that the police will now investigate a work-related death, not only with a view to prosecuting the organisation for corporate manslaughter and a breach of health and safety legislation, but also with a view to prosecuting directors and employees for gross negligence manslaughter and secondary liability for breach of health and safety legislation by the organisation.

The situation has been compounded by the coming into force of the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008, which for the first time has made most health and safety offences imprisonable, rather than merely punishable by a fine, and increased significantly the maximum fine for certain breaches.

Guy Bastable, specialist corporate defence partner in the business crime and regulation department of London-based law firm BCL Burton Copeland, said: "Organisations and individuals caught up in an investigation following a work-related death must obtain expert legal advice from those experienced in dealing with the unique problems that arise when advising a company, its directors and its employees."

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