The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007

22 November 2007

This Act - which has potentially significant implications for, for example, ships entering UK ports and owning companies registered there - will come into force in April 2008, creating a new criminal offence of corporate manslaughter.  A summary of its key features is set out below.

A company will be guilty of the offence, as defined in the Act, if the way in which its activities are managed or organised (i) causes a persons death, and (ii) amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed to the deceased.  The Act also provides that the way in which the companys activities are managed or organised by its senior management will be a substantial element in any determination of guilt.  And it goes on to define a gross breach as involving conduct which falls far below that expected from an organisation in the circumstances.
Senior management is then defined as persons who play a significant role in either the making of decisions about, or have actual involvement in the management or organisation of a companys activities.  And there have already been observations from legal commentators that this approach would appear to embrace personnel heavily involved in both high level strategic and operational responsibilities.

The question of whether a duty of care exists will be determined by the Court in accordance with the usual tests in the law of negligence by reference to, for instance, duties owed to employees or passengers, or in connection with the supply of goods or services. Where such a duty is established, the Act provides that a jury should decide on whether the evidence demonstrates a gross breach. Factors which should be considered at this stage would involve the severity of any failure to comply with relevant health and safety legislation and the risk of death posed as a result.  But the jury may also take into account the organisations attitudes, policies, systems or accepted practices in regard to safety matters, along with such other issues as it considers relevant.

Penalties for the offence involve unlimited fines, as well as court orders for the conviction to be publicised and for the performance of measures to remedy management failings within a specified time frame.  As indicated, the Act has potentially serious implication and its complete text can be accessed from: