Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 – A Guide

A detailed look at what the changes to this law will mean for businesses

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 – A Guide

Who is covered by the offence?

Key Information

The Act applies to:

  • companies incorporated under companies legislation or overseas
  • other corporations including:
    • public bodies incorporated by statute such as local authorities, NHS bodies and a wide range of non–departmental public bodies;
    • organisations incorporated by Royal Charter;
    • limited liability partnerships
  • all other partnerships, and trade unions and employer’s associations, if the organisation concerned is an employer
  • Crown bodies such as Government departments
  • Police forces.

The position of individuals
The offence is concerned with the corporate liability of the organisation itself and does not apply to individual directors, senior managers or other individuals. Nor is it possible to convict an individual of assisting or encouraging the offence (see section 18).

However, individuals can already be prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter/culpable homicide and for health and safety offences. The Act does not change this and prosecutions against individuals will continue to be taken where there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to do so.

Questions and answers

Who will be prosecuted and who will stand in the dock?

  • Prosecutions will be brought against the organisation itself and not specific individuals. As with prosecutions against companies at present, organisations will be represented by their lawyers in court, although individual directors, managers and other employees may be called as witnesses.

How will it be possible in practice to prosecute an unincorporated association, such as a partnership, which has no legal personality?

  • The Act makes provision (section 14) for a prosecution to be brought in the name of a partnership and not against individual members, and for any fine to be paid out of partnership funds. This reflects the approach taken under other legislation, such as the Companies Act 2006 and means that partnerships will be dealt with in a similar manner to companies and other incorporated defendants.
  • This will already be the case where a partnership is a legal person under the law by which it is governed (for example, under Scots law). Section 14 does not therefore apply to partnerships of this type, because the offence applies to these partnerships without the need for special provision.

Why are only certain partnerships, trade unions and employers associations covered?

  • We think it is right to take a cautious approach in extending the offence to unincorporated associations: this will represent a new extension of the criminal law to these organisations. Extending the offence to partnerships will ensure that an important range of employing organisations, already subject to health and safety law, is within the offence and that large firms are not excluded because they have chosen not to incorporate.
  • The Act makes provision for the range of organisations covered by the offence to be extended by secondary legislation (section 21).

Can a parent company be convicted because of failures within a subsidiary?

  • No. Companies within a group structure are all separate legal entities and therefore subject to the offence separately. In practice, the relevant duties of care that underpin the offence are more likely to be owed by a subsidiary than a parent.

Does the new offence apply to foreign companies?

  • Yes – the new offence applies to all companies and other corporate bodies operating in the UK, whether incorporated in the UK or abroad.
  • Because of the way the new offence applies in relation to a group structure (see above), where a company incorporated abroad is operating through a locally registered subsidiary, the subsidiary is likely to be the relevant organisation to be investigated and prosecuted if appropriate.
  • The Act sets out specific rules for the jurisdiction of the new offence – that is to determine whether a death in a particular place will fall under the new offence. These are explained in the section on “Jurisdiction”.

Does the new offence apply to sub–contractors?

  • The new offence applies to all companies and employing partnerships, including those in a contracting chain. However, whether a particular contractor might be liable for the new offence will depend in the first instance on whether they owed a relevant duty of care to the victim. The Act does not impose new duties of care but the new offence will apply in respect of existing obligations on the main contractor and sub–contractors for the safety of worksites, employees and other workers which they supervise.

Does the new offence apply to charities and voluntary organisations?

  • As with the law of manslaughter/culpable homicide at present, the new offence will apply where a charity or voluntary organisation has been incorporated (for example, as a company or as a charitable incorporated organisation under the Charities Act 2006). A charity or voluntary organisation that operates as any other form of organisation to which the offence applies, such as a partnership with employees, will also be liable to the new offence.

What is Crown immunity?

  • This is a long established legal doctrine that means that Crown bodies (such as Government departments) cannot be prosecuted. Section 11(1) makes it clear that this principle does not apply to prosecutions under the Act.
  • Because, in law, Government departments operate in the name of the Crown, there is a need for a number of technical provisions to ensure the new offence operates in respect of Crown bodies in the same way that it operates for corporations. This is dealt with in sections 11 and 12. Whilst not Crown bodies, similar issues arise for police forces, and this is addressed by section 13.

Which Crown bodies will be covered by the offence?

  • Schedule 1 sets out a list of Government departments etc to which the offence applies. In addition, the offence will apply to Crown bodies that are incorporated, such as the Northern Ireland departments, Charity Commission, Office of Fair Trading and Postal Services Commission.
  • The Act will also apply to a wide range of statutory public bodies which are not part of the Crown, including local authorities, NHS bodies and many non–departmental public bodies with executive responsibilities.

What about Executive Agencies?

  • Agencies come under the responsibility of a parent department. All departments are covered by the offence (either through Schedule 1 or by virtue of being a corporate body) and this will extend the offence to fatalities caused by Executive Agencies.

What happens when there are changes to government departments?

  • This is dealt with by section 16. The general rule is that any prosecution will be taken against the body that currently has responsibility for the functions connected with the death. This reflects the reality that when functions transfer, large parts of departments frequently transfer too. If appropriate, there is scope for the Secretary of State to vary which department or Crown body is to be prosecuted.
  • If a function is transferred out of the public sector entirely, proceedings will be against the public body by which the function was last carried out.

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