3 Corporate manslaughter
Incidents such as the Hatfield rail crash are regarded by public opinion as so reprehensible that the parties responsible should face the more serious criminal charge of manslaughter. As you will have gathered from reading the previous section, the history of prosecutions of commercial enterprises for relatively minor health and safety abuses in the workplace is a successful one. However, in contrast, the record of prosecutions for manslaughter for deaths occurring in the workplace is not. In the case of the Hatfield crash, the prosecutions for manslaughter against Balfour Beatty, Network Rail (Railtrack’s successor), a regional director, two managers and a rail engineer employed by Balfour Beatty were all unsuccessful.
You will now look in more detail at the issues involved in holding business organisations criminally accountable for deaths caused by their activities. You will then consider the provisions of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (‘the 2007 Act’), which represents a major statutory reform of the law in this area.
Since the mid-1990s a series of high-profile disasters caused by serious corporate failings, but for which there were no corporate manslaughter convictions, have highlighted the flaws in the existing legal system. They exposed the fact that there were particular difficulties in satisfying the elements of the common law manslaughter offence when applied to incorporated organisations.
The difficulty in securing convictions for corporate manslaughter was twofold. The first issue was that business organisations prosecuted for workplace deaths were invariably charged with the common law crime of ‘gross negligence manslaughter’.