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September 05, 2007

U.K. Corporate Manslaughter Statute

The U.S. tends to believe it can only teach the rest of the world and is slow to realize we may be able to learn something. I'm thinking specifically here about the Corporte Manslaughter Act passed by the English Parliament over the summer - something not even mentioned in the American press (Apparently not part of 'all the news fit to print'...)

According to one write-up that has a good Q & A:

The current law links a company's guilt to the gross negligence of an individual who is said to be the embodiment of the company. It has proved very difficult to prosecute large organisations, and the only successful prosecutions have been against small companies where the director and company are essentially one and the same.

The new Act seeks to address this difficulty by focusing on the way in which a company's activities are managed or organised, and it is not reliant on one individual being found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter. The courts will now be able to consider the wider corporate picture, looking collectively at the actions, or more appropriately the failings, of the company's senior management.

In terms of punishments:

Penalties include an unlimited fine, remedial orders and publicity orders. A remedial order will require an organisation to take steps to remedy any management failure that led to death. The court can impose an order publicising the fact the company has been convicted of the offence, providing details, the amount of any fine imposed and the terms of any remedial order made.

None of these ideas are especially new or even very radical - except, perhaps in a country where there is a harsher penalty for harassing a wild burro on federal lands than causing the death of a worker by willfully violating safety laws. (And after 25 years of tough of crime, that didn't change.)

Indeed, I'd tend to agree with the Centre for Corporate Accountability's assesment that "this Bill represents a significant missed opportunity though still allows for some advance in the possibilities of accountability and justice following deaths at the hands of organisations."

I did a search on Google news about this legislation and the only news items were from the U.K., Canada and New Zealand. Not a single story from the U.S. press, not even after the coal miners were trapped and killed by a cave-in possibly related to safety violations. 

So, for those interested:

Please read about it, write about and especially mention it next time someone tells you the U.S. has become irrationally harsh on corporate crime.

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