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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 November 2005, 15:52 GMT
New moves on corporate killing
Larkhall explosion
The Larkhall blast led to calls for a corporate killing offence
Company bosses could face charges of corporate homicide in future if their recklessness leads to fatal accidents.

An expert group set up by the Scottish Executive has recommended a new offence of corporate killing and ministers were seriously considering the proposals.

The report also suggested a lesser charge for those not directly involved in an accident but whose omissions played a significant part in it.

The justice minister said the ideas would be carefully considered.

There is significant public dissatisfaction with the lack of prosecution against individuals
Corporate killing report

Labour MSP Karen Gillon has been campaigning for a new law ever since four of her constituents, the Findlay family, were killed in a gas explosion at their home in Larkhall six years ago.

Gas company Transco was fined 15m for breaking safety rules but Ms Gillon and others felt the managers of the firm should have faced personal charges.

The experts recommended that a new offence of corporate killing through recklessness be put on the statue book.

It would mean organisations whose actions or failings resulted in death could face prosecution and courts should have a range of penalties, including imprisonment.

It is possible for an organisation to be charged with culpable homicide but the only prosecution of its kind - against Transco - was thrown out by the Appeal Court.

Experts said it highlighted the practical difficulties of bringing a case.

Moves to create a new Scottish offence were first announced by Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson last November, after Westminster announced plans for similar legislation in England and Wales.

Karen Gillon
Karen Gillon has campaigned for the new law

The report said that over the last nine years an average of 30 workers, both employees and self-employed, were killed at work annually in Scotland, excluding deaths on the railways.

The document decided: "There is significant public dissatisfaction in Scotland with the lack of prosecution against individuals."

Ms Jamieson said: "Corporate homicide is an extremely complex area of law.

"The group has come forward with some innovative and radical proposals.

"The executive now needs to consider in detail the legal and practical issues surrounding those recommendations before we indicate the next steps."

Leaders of the Scottish National Party said a new law was long overdue and called on ministers to take urgent action.

The report has without doubt raised the temperature considerably
David Leckie
Corporate lawyer

Justice spokesman Kenny MacAskill said: "This is a welcome recommendation.

"Scotland has a distinctive legal system which needs to reflect the demands a of a 21st Century society and economy."

However, a top legal expert has spoken out against the proposals.

Corporate lawyer David Leckie, from Maclay Murray & Spens, said: "The report has without doubt raised the temperature considerably.

"While no doubt being welcomed by unions and campaigners, it will be resisted by the majority of employers."

"Recent record fines under the existing provisions of the Health and Safety at Work Act - including the Transco fine - provide the clearest evidence that existing health and safety law, if properly enforced, can sufficiently punish companies which breach it."

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