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March 3, 2014

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Corporate manslaughter: it’s picking up speed


Paul Verrico, principal associate, Eversheds

“Corporate Manslaughter: Slowly but Surely”, published in SHP online in April 2013, looked at the surprisingly small impact that the Corporate Manslaughter Act had had in the five years following its introduction.

How times change- in the following year, the Act’s effect has been felt more keenly; although there were only three convictions under the Act during the first five years after its implementation, the fifth conviction came last year just a month after the fourth. J M Murray and Sons were fined a total of £110,000 and Princes Sporting Club £135,000. In the latter case, the sentencing Judge remarked that the fine would have been much higher had he not been limited by the company’s assets — or lack thereof.  In neither case was a conviction secured against the Directors.

The Act is to come under scrutiny again this month with Pyranha Mouldings Limited — a canoe and kayak manufacturer — facing one charge of corporate manslaughter and two charges under sections two and six of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. These charges follow a fine of £50,000 (plus £6,562 in costs) issued to the company in September 2013 after an employee was injured when his head was crushed against the top of a lorry container.

This happened despite several requests being made by employees for the system to change; if these requests had been acted upon the incident may have been prevented. HSE Inspector Adam McMahon said that bad practice was “allowed to happen over several years. The employee could easily have been killed… This case shows how important it is that companies listen to their workers and implement safe systems of work”. It will be interesting to see how this may impact upon any conviction under the Corporate Manslaughter Act.

It may be that the outcome of this case also helps to shed further light on the Act, which has left many questions unanswered. Although not bucking the trend of cases being brought only against small companies, it may provide some much needed answers as to the interpretation of the senior management test. As well as the Company facing charges, three employees are also facing charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Perhaps this multi-layered approach will help shed some light on who is to be considered culpable due to their role in the senior management team.

If this case leads to the sixth conviction under the Corporate Manslaughter Act then the number of convictions in five years will have doubled in 5 months, demonstrating that the CPS are very much picking up speed. The next points of interest will be if the application of the senior management test is considered, if the level of fines increase and if there will be any successful prosecutions of directors. Watch this space. 

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