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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 March, 2005, 12:24 GMT
Company manslaughter law drafted
Forklift driver in a warehouse
Companies, rather than individuals, will face manslaughter charges
A criminal offence of corporate manslaughter has been drafted, making it easier to prosecute companies responsible for fatal accidents.

The offence will apply when someone has been killed because senior management "grossly fails to take reasonable care for the safety of employees or others".

Under the draft plans managers will not face jail, as the offence will be committed by organisations, not people.

The maximum penalty will be an unlimited fine, the Home Office said.

The law currently requires prosecutors to prove a single individual at the very top of a company is personally guilty of manslaughter before the company can be prosecuted.

Government departments

The Corporate Manslaughter Bill would update this by allowing courts to look at the implications of working practices set down by the company's managers.

It would also apply to Crown bodies, including government departments, as well as the wider public sector and industry, to create a "broad level playing field" between different types of organisations, Home Secretary Charles Clarke said.

This adds emphasis to our message that sensible health and safety is a cornerstone of a civilised society
Bill Callaghan
Health and Safety Commission

Some government functions will be exempt, however, including prisons and agencies such as the emergency services during a civil emergency.

It would also be impossible to prosecute NHS Primary Care Trusts for corporate manslaughter on the basis of them failing to allocate funds for competing areas of care.

Mr Clarke described the current law as being neither clear nor effective.

"The draft Bill aims to ensure that the law is effective in bringing organisations to account when they have shown a clear disregard for the law with fatal consequences for members of their workforce or others," he added.

Boardroom emphasis

Safety campaigners and unions have long demanded a change in the law to make companies responsible for deaths caused by their activities.

The Transport and General Workers' Union welcomed the plans, but raised concerns that directors were "not required to take positive steps on health and safety".

This could mean that the courts will not be able to apply the new offence of corporate manslaughter in instances where individual company directors have neglected to maintain safe workplaces, it said.

"The draft Bill is a chance to ensure that health and safety is taken more seriously in the boardroom, that workers' health is protected through a culture of prevention and that justice is done when tragedies do occur," said general secretary Tony Woodley.

'Civilised society'

Health and Safety Commission chairman Bill Callaghan said: "We are very pleased to see the Home Office proposals and that they reflect HSC thinking, especially with regards to application to the Crown.

"This adds emphasis to our message that sensible health and safety is a cornerstone of a civilised society."

The draft Bill will be up for consultation until 12 June and is expected to lay the foundation for legislation in the next Parliament if Labour is returned to power.

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