• Robert Spicer

Corporate manslaughter: NHS Trust charged

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into effect on April 6, 2008. Its enactment followed years of discussion, consultation and the introduction of Bills in Parliament. The Act was acclaimed by lawyers and health and safety professionals as a major step forward in the application of the criminal law to companies which caused workplace deaths.

Before the Act came into force, the technicalities of company and criminal law meant that, in a number of high-profile disaster cases, manslaughter prosecutions against large companies had been unsuccessful. Since April 2008, despite the expectations raised by the new statute, corporate manslaughter has largely disappeared from the headlines. There have been two significant developments since 2008. First, there have been a few reported prosecutions. Second, definitive sentencing guidelines for the new offence have been issued by the Sentencing Guidelines Council.

In summary, the Act of 2007 created a new offence of corporate manslaughter. This meant that companies and certain other organisations could be prosecuted where there had been a gross failure in the management of health and safety with fatal consequences.

Key elements of the new offence include the following:

  • It can only be committed by organisations and not by individuals.

  • Its root element is a breach of a duty of care.

  • The breach must be a gross breach. This means that the conduct at issue falls far below what can reasonably be expected of the organisation.

  • A substantial element of the breach must be the way in which the organisation’s activities are managed or organised by its senior management.

  • The offence is committed only where death is shown to have been caused by the gross breach of duty.

  • Crown immunity has been lifted. This means that government bodies can be prosecuted under the statute.

  • It has now been reported that Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust has been charged under the Act, following the death of a primary schoolteacher after childbirth. This is the first NHS Trust to be charged with the offence.

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