The first case brought under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, brought into force in 2008, has hit the courts. The Act widens the offence so that companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter resulting from serious management failures, constituting a gross breach of a duty of care.
The case concerns the death of a geologist when a trench that he was working in, for the company Cotswold Geotechnical (Holdings) Ltd, collapsed. The company is charged with unlawfully killing the geologist through gross negligence in the way that its activities were managed or organised.
If the company is found guilty, the maximum penalty is an unlimited fine. The Sentencing Guidelines Council has recommended fines of no less than £500,000 for the offence.
Sean Joyce, a regulatory partner at Stephensons Solicitors LLP, said: “The case is of more general interest as it is the first time that the scope of the new offence will be interpreted by the court.
“Although it is clear in this case who the ‘senior management’ in the definition of the offence will be, as there is only one director, it is hoped that the Judge will give some wider explanation as to what level of senior management is intended to be caught by the Act.”
As well as the corporate manslaughter charge, the director of the company also faces personal liability under the Health and Safety at Work Act.