The trial against Gloucestershire-based engineering consultancy Cotswold Geotechnical is over the death of 27-year old geologist Alexander Wright, who was gathering soil samples on a development site in Stroud when he was crushed in a trench.
Cotswold Geotechnical could face an unlimited fine.
Business owners will be watching the case this week with interest. “Smaller companies and their directors certainly have something to fear from the new legislation,” comments Jonathan Grimes a partner in the criminal and regulatory department at law firm Kingsley Napley. “The real question is whether the police and Crown Prosecution Service have the appetite for, and ability to pursue, prosecutions against large corporations. Time will tell.”
Under the old law, there was a requirement to find named individuals at management level responsible. The larger the organisation, the harder it was to prove that a particular manager was responsible for the death(s). Only 36 companies were prosecuted for homicide following the first trial for corporate manslaughter in 1965. “We’ve seen high-profile cases where corporate manslaughter charges were either unable to be brought, or failed – such as the Zeebrugge Ferry disaster and the Hatfield Rail crash,” says Grimes.
The new law makes it easier to prosecute companies for manslaughter than it was under the old judge-made common law. The prosecution no longer has to be able to pin all the blame on one individual director in order to get the company convicted.
The Cotswold Geotechnical case, which starts tomorrow at Winchester Crown Court and is due to last three weeks, will highlight just how tough the new law is on crime in the workplace.
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