Guide

Corporate manslaughter

What is corporate manslaughter?

Your business can be prosecuted for the offence of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed causes a death through a gross breach of duty of care to the deceased. A large part of the breach must have been in the way activities were managed or organised by senior management.

Although owners and senior managers of businesses cannot personally be prosecuted for corporate manslaughter, they can be prosecuted for other offences related to failures in health and safety management. These include gross negligence manslaughter and health and safety offences. The corporate manslaughter law does not change this and prosecutions against individuals will continue to be taken where there is enough evidence and it is in the public interest.

Individual directors or members of staff could also be called as witnesses in a criminal trial for corporate manslaughter.

The corporate manslaughter test

Juries will consider how activities that led to the fatal accident were managed throughout your business. This includes any systems and processes for managing health and safety, how these were operated in practice and the failures that occurred.

Most of the failure must have been caused by senior management, ie the people in your business who make the big decisions. This includes both centralised, headquarters functions as well as those in operational management roles.

To be in 'gross' breach of a duty of care, your business' actions must have fallen far below what could have been reasonably expected in the circumstances. Juries will also take into account any health and safety breaches by the organisation - and how serious they were.

Duty of care

Your business has duties of care that it should meet, for example:

  • the systems of work and equipment used by employees
  • the condition of worksites and other premises
  • products or services supplied to customers

The corporate manslaughter legislation does not create new duties. The law is based on existing health and safety rules.

Complying with the legislation

All employers must already comply with health and safety legislation. The Corporate Manslaughter Act does not affect those requirements. However, the introduction of the criminal offence of corporate manslaughter should encourage you to manage health and safety properly.