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Stewarts Solicitors

Are businesses ready for Manslaughter Act?

BUSINESSES are being urged to prepare themselves for new legislation that could have potentially devastating consequences a leading corporate lawyer has warned.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 comes into force across the UK on April 6, as Joanne Moody of Stewarts Solicitors explained.
‘‘Local businesses have just weeks to prepare for the change. The whole point of the new law is to make them guilty where they wouldn’t have been before.’’ Under current legislation, it is difficult to find a company liable for someone’s death. They can be found guilty of breaches of Health and Safety legislation, but for a company to be found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter blame for a death must be attributed specifically on the act or omission of someone high enough up in the company to be considered their ”directing mind”.

Under the new law, Ms Moody said senior management will be taken to regional managers and managers of different operational divisions.
‘‘ Who makes up ‘senior management’ will depend on the nature of the businesses’ activities and the size of their operations,”

‘‘ For example, a middle manager may know that there is no organised system in his company for getting its vehicles serviced, but the MD may not.

‘‘ One of the fleet has a mechanical failure (resulting from a fault that would have been spotted during a service) and is involved in a fatal accident. The chances of the company being found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter are minimal because the company’s ”directing mind” (the MD) did not know that there was no organised system for getting the fleet serviced. This position will change under the new law.

”Businesses that take proper steps to meet current legal duties and have ensured that their risks are managed properly, should have nothing to worry about. But the new act might be a good reason just to double-check things.

If businesses are deliberately disregarding the safety of others they need to be careful, they will only have themselves to blame if they find themselves convicted of Corporate Manslaughter.

The act, applies to companies and partnerships, in relation to their premises and the activities they carry out and in the case of deaths to employees or anyone visiting the employer’s premises.

Businesses will be guilty of corporate manslaughter if the death is caused because of a failure in the way that their activities are managed or organised and a substantial part of that failure occurred at senior management level.

Senior management won’t just be the MD and the Board — it will include regional managers and managers of different operational divisions. And possibly middle managers. Who makes up ”senior management” will depend on the nature of the businesses’ activities and the size of their operations.

Investigations will be carried out to check what systems and processes businesses have for managing safety (eg whether they have health and safety assessments and risk management assessments; how trainees or apprentices are supervised; how adequate equipment is and how these operate).

If businesses are guilty they will be liable to an unlimited fine. They might have to publicise details of their conviction and fine. They may be ordered to take steps to fix the failures that caused the death.

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