Corporate Manslaughter – some progress at last

24 July 2007

ASLEF has welcomed the fact that at last we have a Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill – but general secretary Keith Norman says it has missed an opportunity to put something more meaningful onto the statue book. He insists that although the new law will do something about the thousands of people killed each year at work it falls short of finding individuals guilty.

This new law will make it easier to convict culpable organisations, but vitally it has not lowered the threshold of guilt - it criminalises only an organisation whose gross negligence results in death.

This piece of legislation is largely the result of a series of high-profile rail accidents, including the Southall and Paddington crashes, and the failure to attach culpability directly to individual directors concerned.

Under the new legislation, because it will not seek to attach personal blame, such actions - even though now criminalised - are more likely to succeed, and high fines can be expected. In addition, fines for corporate manslaughter convictions will almost certainly be significantly higher than under health and safety law. The Act also provides the courts with a new power to make a ‘publicity order', so that companies will be required to publicise the details of their conviction.

ASLEF’s reservations are that no directors or other individuals will be prosecuted under the new law; that there will be no sentences of imprisonment; and that many organisations which are unincorporated will not be covered by the provisions of the Act. Keith says this is evidence of double standards. ‘If train drivers cause an accident they can go to prison - yet the bosses who provide them with equipment which may be faulty and cause an accident will get off scot-free.

‘Nevertheless, there are positive aspects to the Act. The reputation damage which a corporate manslaughter conviction will cause should ensure that safety is clearly on the radar. Hopefully even though management cannot be prosecuted as individuals, their actions will fall increasingly under the microscope.’

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