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July 7, 2011

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Corporate manslaughter law extended to custody premises

Deaths in custody will soon be covered by the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, after MPs and peers backed their inclusion.

Ministry of Defence service custody premises and customs custody facilities are also to be brought within the scope of the Act to ensure consistency in the law.

The change in the legislation is likely to be approved in the chamber of the House of Lords on 20 July, and should come into force on 1 September.

The inclusion of deaths in custody in the Act was a hugely controversial matter that was debated at length in both Houses in the run-up to the Bill’s eventual ratification some four years ago. The Commons had been reluctant to definitively include deaths in custody, while the Lords staunchly refused to pass the Bill until such deaths were covered.

The Commons eventually conceded to the Lords, but further discord arose regarding the date by which custody facilities should come within the Act’s scope. The two Houses finally reached an agreed timeframe of three years to allow custody providers enough time to ensure compliance with the law.

In progress reports to Parliament, published in 2008 and 2009, custody providers indicated their readiness to implement the provision and so, in keeping with the pre-arranged timeframe, two statutory instruments were laid before Parliament in May: a Commencement Order implementing s2(1)(d) of the 2007 Act, which sets out the duty of care that certain organisations owe to persons who are held in detention, or custody; and an Amendment Order, which will add persons held in the custody area of UK Border Agency customs facilities, or being held in MoD service custody premises, to the Act’s coverage.

The draft orders were passed by a Commons general committee on 28 June, and approved by the Lords’ Grand Committee on 5 July. The Orders will now go before the Chamber on 20 July but the overall consensus should mean they go through “on the nod” and will then become law, following ministerial implementation.

The commencement of the custody provisions does not create any new duty, since custody providers already owe a duty of care in the law of negligence to anyone they hold in custody, and they must also comply with health and safety laws.

The Government is planning to issue a circular as a matter of good practice and to ensure that those operating in the criminal justice system are made aware of the commencement and amendment of the Act. No additional guidance will be issued, as advice on custody provision is already covered in the Ministry of Justice’s Guide to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.

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