28 Jan 2013 | 09:28 am | 2 min. read
141 cases opened since 2009, 56 prosecutions ongoing, dwarfing 3 convictions so far
The number of new corporate manslaughter cases opened by the Crown Prosecution Service rose 40% from 45 in 2011 to 63 in 2012*, say Pinsent Masons, the international law firm.
141 corporate manslaughter cases have been opened since records began in 2009. 56 cases are currently being investigated for prosecution, dwarfing the three convictions that there have been since 2008 (see graph below).
Pinsent Masons say these figures show that the low number of convictions so far is the tip of the iceberg of the police and CPS’ focus on potential corporate manslaughter cases, and that prosecution for corporate manslaughter is not a risk for businesses to take lightly.
The introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 for fatalities from April 2008 was a legal landmark. For the first time, large and medium sized companies could realistically be found guilty of corporate manslaughter for deaths arising from management failures which constituted a gross breach of a duty of care.
Simon Joyston-Bechal, specialist Health & Safety Lawyer and Partner at Pinsent Masons says: “High-risk industries and companies cannot be reassured by the current lack of convictions for corporate manslaughter. The three convictions so far are just the tip of an iceberg.”
“A low number of convictions could lead businesses to think corporate manslaughter is an option little-used by prosecutors. However, corporate manslaughter cases are very complex and can take a long time to come to trial. We can now see from these figures that there are a rapidly growing number of cases in the pipeline.
Simon Joyston-Bechal adds: “We acted in defence of this first case that was prosecuted and saw how long it took. To date, it has taken two to four years for a conviction to be secured following a fatality. The offence has only applied to fatalities since 2008, so it is still very early days in terms of convictions.”
The first corporate manslaughter conviction in 2011 related to a 2008 fatality. The second conviction in 2012 related to a 2010 fatality, while the third conviction in 2012 related to a fatality four years prior, in 2008.
Pinsent Masons say that the criticism directed by some commentators against the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) over the low number of convictions for corporate manslaughter may be misplaced in light of these new figures.
Simon Joyston-Bechal says: “Some have criticised the police and the CPS for the apparent under-use of a major new tool, but these figures show that prosecutors are increasingly active in pursuing corporate manslaughter, albeit slowly.”
Pinsent Masons adds that organisations need to watch out for cost-cutting during the recession.
Simon Joyston-Bechal explains: “At the beginning of the recession, responsible organisations tended to safeguard their Health & Safety budgets but these budgets are no longer immune.”
“There is a growing risk as the economy struggles to recover from recent recessions that companies see Health & Safety as a place to cut back on spending. It could be intentional cutbacks on Health & Safety training, advice or equipment upgrades, or, more worrying, a cut in staff that inadvertently cuts safety because safety is just one of the functions of those staff. Companies that do this could find their cost-cutting decisions leave them liable for prosecution if there is an accident.”
"Cutting corners on safety in order to save money is probably the most serious aggravating feature of an offence. This makes it more likely there would be a prosecution and increases the sentence on conviction, as well as the degree of adverse probability and damage to reputation."
Simon Joyston-Bechal adds: “All businesses need to have robust Health & Safety procedures in place, including the adoption of measures that can be tailored by specialist Health & Safety lawyers to reduce the likelihood of prosecution should an incident occur."
Corporate manslaughter cases opened by the CPS
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