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Corporate killing law to change

21 July 06 13:55 GMT

Long-awaited moves to crack down on corporate manslaughter have been welcomed by MPs.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill has been formally introduced in the Commons.

It will create a new offence of corporate manslaughter in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and of corporate homicide in Scotland.

There have been calls for a new corporate manslaughter offence after high-profile rail crashes.

The draft bill will be published later on Friday and Commons leader Jack Straw has said it will be given parliamentary time to become law.

Industrial injury

Mr Straw added: "The ultimate test of its success will not be the number of convictions that follow it but whether or not it changes the behaviour of managers of businesses so there are far fewer deaths arising from major accidents of the kind we had in the past."

Labour MP Frank Doran said he was pleased Scotland was included in the measures.

"In Scotland we have one of the highest rates of industrial death and industrial injury," he said.

Labour former minister Tony Lloyd said: "This will be very strongly welcomed by the many families who have lost family members in deaths at the workplace, particularly when those have been caused by reckless employers from the Herald of Free Enterprise to the railway disasters but sometimes just in the smallest firms in the back streets of our towns and cities."

Directors 'not liable'

According to newspaper reports, the bill will make companies liable for any deaths due to a general breach of the duty of care by the firm.

The new manslaughter offence would apply to corporations, including public bodies, and introduce unlimited fines if it were found that a death followed a serious failing by senior managers in the organisation of the corporation.

However, individual directors would not be personally liable. Efforts to bring corporate manslaughter charges against Balfour Beatty and Network Rail bosses over the Hatfield disaster collapsed last year.

The record £10m fine imposed on Balfour Beatty after the disaster was this month cut by 25% to £7.5m.

'Safer society'

John Cridland, of employers' organisation the CBI, welcomed the government's move.

He said: "Companies who neglect their responsibilities to their employees must be answerable in law and parliamentarians must ensure they produce legislation which achieves a safer society without encumbering employers with unreasonable burdens.

"So far the government has taken a sensible approach and rightly continues to focus on collective responsibility and company liability rather than trying to hold one person accountable for a corporate failure.

"The other principle issue is the need for clarity in establishing whether or not a company has behaved in a grossly negligent manner.

"Much work will have to be done to ensure the final shape of the legislation gets the legal detail right."

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