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What is Corporate Manslaughter?

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act (CMCHA) was passed in 2007 and came into force in 2008, ensuring companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter, as a consequence of serious management failures, resulting in a gross breach of a duty of care.

This act was seen as a major milestone because it was designed to overcome the limitations of the common law offence of gross negligence manslaughter, as applied to companies and other incorporated bodies. Previously, prosecutors had to prove a person in the company had a “controlling mind” and had been grossly negligent, but this was very difficult to prove, especially in larger companies. Being passed just over a decade ago, corporate manslaughter (known as corporate homicide in Scotland) is still seen as a relatively new offence, but it is significant because it allows a corporation to be punished for conduct that leads to a person’s death.

There has, however, been a great deal of scrutiny over the act. Since it was introduced, fewer than 25 companies have been charged with corporate manslaughter, with fines ranging from £50,000 to £700,000. That said, in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, police said they had "reasonable grounds" to suspect that corporate manslaughter may have been committed, but there has not been a single arrest. This has lead to a great deal of heavy criticism in the media.

What are the consequences?

A conviction carries an unlimited fine, whilst courts may also impose ‘remedial orders’ on guilty companies, forcing them to change their procedures, ensuring their work complies with health and safety law. It’s also possible for courts to order organisations to take out adverts that publicise the fact they have been convicted. The Sentencing Guidelines Council introduced new sentencing guidelines for corporate manslaughter in 2016, along with new guidelines for health and safety offences and hygiene offences. Since coming into force, there has been a notable increase in the severity of the fines imposed on organisations, with the number of £1m-plus fines rising.

Jurors will consider whether the company has adhered to health and safety legislation, so there is a higher chance of conviction if a company has turned a blind eye turned towards health and safety, or has shown a reckless disregard. Courts will also request jurors consider whether the company has adhered to any guidance or good practice published by enforcing authorities, as well as considering whether there is evidence that the company has a bad attitude or culture in relation to health an safety, which as a result has contributed to a person’s death.

What does CMCHA 2007 mean for small and large businesses?

For businesses of all sizes, it’s important to uphold the highest possible standards in terms of health and safety management and risk assessment. It’s not just a case of having good procedures in place, businesses must be enforcing those procedures. Without high standards being met, any business is vulnerable to prosecution under this legislation.

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