Business Law & Compliance

Corporate manslaughter: What is your responsibility?

4 min read

06 November 2017

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 has ensured companies are held accountable for deaths resultant of management failings. Giles Ward, senior partner at Milners Solicitors, sheds more light on the subject.

With the clocks going back, the UK will soon be experiencing shorter days and icy winter driving conditions. According to The Car Expert, there were “1,780 road deaths in the year ending March 2016. That’s just under five people every day”. This puts UK businesses at a much higher risk of potent corporate manslaughter charges, with the vehicle statistics showing how far-reaching the issue is.

When dealing with the criminal offence of corporate manslaughter, one thing is for sure, the offence has resulted in one or more deaths and the offence is treated with the utmost seriousness. The sentencing guidelines are reflective of the severity of the offence and numerous factors will be taken into account when the offence is being considered and sentencing passed.

Not only does this offence involve death, but it also involves corporate fault at the highest level.

The sentencing applied by the judge will be affected by numerous factors; how foreseeable was injury? How far short of the appropriate standard did the offender fall? How common is this breach within this organisation? Was there more than one death or a high risk of further deaths, or serious personal injury in addition to death?

The answer to these questions will dictate which category (either A or B) the offence falls into. You then have your starting point.

Let’s not forget that the company in question will likely feel helpless, almost as though the offence is and has been completely outside of control. In fact, in this modern day and age where our technology is the best and most advanced it has ever been, more companies need to be aware of the measures that can be taken to prevent accidents resulting in corporate manslaughter charges.

How can businesses reduce the risk of corporate manslaughter?

There are numerous factors to take into account. Take driving for example. Although the offence of corporate manslaughter is rare in comparison to other driving offences such as speeding or driving whilst using your mobile phone, it is easy for one offence to snowball into another.

Say for instance your employee is a prolific speeder; you have received at least two Notices of Intended Prosecution in recent months as your employee has been running late on numerous occasions. Your employee is speeding in the lead up to an accident that results in the death of another driver and unbeknown to you, he has worked 76 hours in the last four days.

The onus will not always lay with the driver, the court is also going to be asking questions of the employer such as, why hadn’t the employee’s working schedule been monitored correctly? Who authorised him to be on the road for such a long period of time? Who arranged for site visits so far apart in such a short space of time?

We are only human and error happens regularly. The consequences of it vary dramatically and sentencing will be applied accordingly.

So what’s the solution? If you had more information about your employee’s whereabouts prior to the offence occurring, could you have demonstrated your scrupulous awareness and be able to demonstrate your proactive approach to preventing accidents such as this from occurring? Could this assist when the court is assessing how much of your annual turnover to fine you? The answer is yes.

Giles Ward is a senior partner at Milners Solicitors