2014 : A busy year so far for Corporate Manslaughter

14th July 2014 Business Crime

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 seeks to prosecute organisations following serious management failures which result in death.

Section 1(1) of the 2007 Act makes it a criminal offence if the way a corporation organises its activities causes a person's death; and amounts to a gross breach of the relevant duty of care. The Act defines a 'gross breach' as conduct which 'falls far below what can reasonably be expected of the organisation in all the circumstances'.

The main penalty for those organisations found Guilty is that of an unlimited fine. The relevant Sentencing Guidelines suggest that an appropriate fine will seldom be less that £500,000, and may be measured in millions of pounds. Other penalties include remedial orders and publicity orders.

Since the Act came into force in 2008 there has been only a handful of successful prosecutions brought (seven in total, with only three having defended the charges at trial). However, 2014 has seen a surge in activity in this relatively quiet area of law, including the first two acquittals following trial:

PS & JE Ward Ltd - Not Guilty

In April 2014, PS & JE Ward Ltd were the first company to secure an acquittal of the charge of corporate manslaughter. The charges arose out of the death of a 26 year old who was killed when a metal hydraulic trailer he was towing touched an overhead power line causing him to be electrocuted.

Although investigations proved that the deceased had not be trained to drive the tractor which towed the trailer, the jury found PS & JE Ward Ltd 'Not Guilty' of corporate manslaughter but instead found them 'Guilty' of the lesser offence of failing to protect a worker, contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act.

It is of note that no individual prosecutions were brought in this case.

Cavendish Masonry Ltd - Guilty

May 2014 brought the seventh ever conviction for corporate manslaughter when a jury at Oxford Crown Court found Cavendish Masonry Ltd 'Guilty' following the death of a 23 year old employee who had been crushed to death by a two-ton block of limestone when the slab tumbled from its lintel as it was being lifted into place by a crane. The straps holding it in place had been loosened.

It was concluded that the death was a result of the company's negligence. The deceased was working on a 1,200 acre estate where it was found that Cavendish Masonry Ltd had failed to ensure that the lifting operation was done safely, and failed to recognise and take action against the obvious danger.

MNS Mining - Not Guilty

In June 2014 the second acquittal of corporate manslaughter charges was secured by MNS Mining following a three month trial at Swansea Crown Court. MNS Mining faced charges following an incident which left four workers dead after the mine they were working in was flooded. The mining manager who was also personally charged with four counts of manslaughter was also acquitted of all charges.

The Crown's case against the company and its manager was based on an alleged failure to conduct adequate safety checks before instructing workers to use explosives in the mine. The mining manager argued that he had inspected the mine three times to ensure the work could be carried out safely. Expert evidence suggested it was "possible" and "probable" that the water had collected after the inspections. The jury took less than 2 hours to return verdicts of 'Not Guilty' in respect of both the company and its manager.

What next?

We are currently seeing an increase in charges being brought against individuals for health and safety matters. It is therefore likely that we will also continue to see a rise in the number of proceedings pursued against organisations under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Given that a conviction brings with it extensive financial penalties together with potentially irreparable damage to company reputation, it is important that organisations bear in mind the provision of the 2007 Act when considering their health and safety procedures.

For more advice regarding corporate manslaughter charges, please contact 0845 402 0001 or anoushka.shepherd@jmw.co.uk

To learn more about corporate manslaughter please click here.

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Evan Wright is a Partner located in Manchester in our Business Crime & Regulation department

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