Charges against director dropped in first corporate manslaughter trial
The long-awaited trial of Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 has been adjourned again until 24 January 2011.
But the company’s managing director, Peter Eaton, will not now face trial accused of gross negligence manslaughter and an offence under s37 of the HSWA, after his solicitors, Pinsent Masons LLP, successfully argued for both charges to be dropped. In open court on 6 October, the judge ruled that, owing to the ill health of Mr Eaton, the two charges against him should be permanently stayed.
The trial of the company, on the charge of corporate manslaughter and for allegedly breaching s2 of the HSWA, will proceed on the new date, with the judge indicating that it may now be heard in Winchester Crown Court rather than in Bristol. The judge also indicated that he would not tolerate any further delays in the case.
However, Pinsent Masons is calling for the corporate manslaughter case to be dropped as well. Kevin Bridges, a partner at the firm, said: “There will be a further hearing before Mr Justice Field where this will be argued in December. The issue is whether he [Mr Eaton] is fit even to give evidence and instructions to his defence team and, if he can’t, whether the company can be tried at all.”
The Crown Prosecution Service originally laid the charges against both Mr Eaton and the company in April last year, following the death of employee Alex Wright in September 2008.
The trial was due to start on 23 February this year but following submissions heard in private on 26 February, the judge directed that the trial be adjourned and be listed to resume at the start of this month.
Sally Roff, partner and head of the safety, health and environment group at law firm Beachcroft LLP, believes that the Corporate Manslaughter Act has been tainted by the latest delay in court proceedings.
She said: “At a time when there is so much scrutiny over the effective use of public funds, one wonders what is to be gained from pursuing a ‘shell’ company.
“There is little prospect of a significant fine being levied on any conviction and it is unlikely that there will be any meaningful guidance on how the Corporate Manslaughter Act is to be interpreted, particularly in terms of who, for the purpose of the Act, would fall into the definition of ‘senior management’.
“Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings is a very small company and it is unlikely that there will be any detailed consideration of who constituted its senior management. The Corporate Manslaughter Act has become tarnished with delay, both by the time it took to come to the statute books and now in its implementation.”
Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings is unable to comment further at this stage, given that the proceedings are continuing.
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