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


Key Information

An organisation convicted of the new offence can receive:

  • A fine. There is no upper limit to what this can be.
  • A publicity order. This requires an organisation to publicise the fact of its conviction and certain details of the offence, in a way specified by the court. Publicity orders are not being brought into force on 6 April 2008, but will be commenced when supporting guidelines are available.

In addition, the court can set a remedial order, requiring the organisation to address the cause of the fatal injury. These are not currently available for organisations convicted of manslaughter/culpable homicide, although they can be imposed under health and safety legislation.

Questions and answers

How will courts determine the size of a fine?

  • This will be a matter for the courts and any sentencing guidelines. In England and Wales, the Sentencing Guidelines Council is working on a guideline to support the new offence. The Sentencing Advisory Panel is expected to publish a consultation paper in November. A final guideline is expected to be in place by the autumn of 2008.
  • Generally, we would expect the courts to consider the sort of issues taken into account when setting fines under health and safety legislation, but with the additional recognition that an organisation has been found guilty of an offence of homicide.
  • Factors considered in health and safety proceedings include whether the breach was with a view to profit, the degree of risk and the extent of the danger involved, and the objective of achieving a safe environment for the public and need to bring that message home. In England and Wales, the leading case on setting fines for health and safety offences is R v F Howe & Co (Engineers) Limited².
  • Generally, fines need to reflect the relative size of the offender and the scale of the offending. The courts have shown an increasing willingness to hand down very severe penalties in very serious cases. As an illustration:
    • In 1999 Great Western Trains was fined £1.5 million in proceedings resulting from the 1997 Southall train crash.
    • In 2003 Thames Trains was fined over £2 million and Network Rail £4 million in relation to health and safety breaches that led to the fatal train crash at Ladbroke Grove in 1999.
    • In 2005, Transco was fined £15 million for health and safety breaches behind a fatal explosion in Larkhall in 1999.
    • In 2006, the highest ever fines were seen against railway organisations in relation to the fatal derailment of a train near Hatfield in 2000. Network Rail was fined £3.5 million and, after appeal, Balfour Beatty’s fine was £7.5 million.
  • In appropriate cases, fines on this scale, and even higher, are of the sort that we would expect to see for corporate manslaughter.

How will remedial orders be set?

  • A remedial order may only be made where the prosecution apply. An application from the prosecution must be accompanied with the proposed terms of the order. Before making the application, the prosecution must consult the appropriate regulatory authority (or authorities), such as the Health and Safety Executive, Office of Rail Regulation, Food Standards Agency or local authority.
  • In practice, we expect prosecutors will wish to discuss the possibility of a remedial order with the relevant regulatory body in general liaison over the handling of the case. As the relevant enforcement experts, the regulatory body will be closely involved in drafting the proposed terms of the order, and suggesting a period in which the necessary steps must be taken.

When will remedial orders be used? How will they be enforced?

  • We expect the courts to impose a remedial order in relatively rare circumstances since the relevant regulator will have been involved in the case from the outset and will have been able to use their existing enforcement powers to address any dangerous practices long before a case comes to court. Nevertheless, this power enables the judge to impose an order if it still appears necessary.
  • From a practical perspective, the relevant regulator will already be closely involved in the case and will have been consulted on the terms of any remedial order. We would expect this authority to take a key interest in the progress the organisation is making to address the cause of the fatality, including taking the steps identified in the remedial order. An order may require an organisation to supply details of compliance to the regulatory body.
  • An organisation that fails to take the action set out in the order can be prosecuted for failure to do so. This would be the responsibility of the general prosecuting authorities (the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales, the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland and the Procurator Fiscal in Scotland). An unlimited fine can be imposed on conviction.

When will publicity orders be made available to the courts?

  • This new sort of order will be brought into force when sentencing guidelines are available in England and Wales. The Sentencing Advisory Panel expects to publish a consultation paper on publicity orders (and the assessment of financial penalties) in November. A final guideline is expected to be ready by the autumn of 2008, paving the way for publicity orders to be brought into force at that point.

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