Legal history as the CPS is successfully challenged
The High Court has ordered the Crown Prosecution Service to review its decision not to bring corporate manslaughter charges against the employer of a teenager killed in his first week at work.
Lord Justice Waller has today (29 December) ruled that the CPS must reconsider the evidence in the death of 17-year old Daniel Dennis who fell through a skylight while working for roofing company North Eastern Roofing in April 2003.
The High Court decision in the Judicial Review pursued by the GMB union and Thompsons Solicitors – only the second time in legal history that the CPS has been brought to court in a workplace death case - exposes the lack of specialism and proactivity in the CPS’s approach to corporate manslaughter.
The ruling concludes that the way in which the CPS interpreted the evidence, including by describing the finding of the inquest jury that Daniel had been unlawfully killed as “perverse” and its apparent lack of understanding of health and safety law, should be looked at again. Lord Justice Waller concludes it is “...seriously arguable that a different decision might be made once account is taken of these matters”.
Fatal Accident at Work
Daniel’s father Peter, from Bridgend, South Wales, had warned his employers that his son had received no prior safety training and so should not work at heights.
But Daniel was sent up scaffolding to access timber on the roof of a B&Q store in Cwmbran, Gwent during a re-cladding project. He had not been given training for working at heights, was not wearing a harness and the skylight area was not fenced off.
The inquest jury took less than 10 minutes to reach its unlawful killing verdict. Yet the CPS told the Dennis family that gross negligence manslaughter charges could not be brought.
The High Court’s decision reveals the CPS’s lack of expertise in health and safety and gross negligence law and a lack of proactivity in investigating workplace death cases.
Reaction from those fighting for justice for Daniel
Peter Dennis said: “This decision gives us some hope this new year that justice for Daniel will finally be achieved. This ruling confirms what we’ve said all along, that the CPS failed us all by not bringing manslaughter charges – a decision which left us flabbergasted at the time. With superb support from our trade union GMB we have pursued this case to ensure accountability for Daniel’s death by his employer. We could not have done this without them. We’ve done this for Daniel, and because we don’t want other innocent families to suffer as we have.”
Allan Garley, Regional Secretary of the GMB South Western Region, said: “Referring the case back to the CPS is a victory in itself and we’re delighted for the family of Daniel Dennis. As a union our main priority is to protect workers from serious injury and death. Daniel’s death was a tragic accident which could and should have been avoided. We look forward to the CPS’s review of the case, in which we trust that the facts of what happened to Daniel will be considered properly.”
Representing the Dennis family, Mick Antoniw, an expert in corporate manslaughter and health and safety law at trade union law firm Thompsons said: “This is a landmark ruling as it’s only the second case where the courts have interfered in a work place death. It is shocking that in this case, and so many cases, the CPS failed to properly consider the bringing of manslaughter charges. We now expect the CPS to review and overhaul the way they consider the evidence in cases involving workplace deaths. It is essential they become more proactive, take a greater interest in the inquest proceedings and develop greater expertise in health and safety law. This case also exposes the desperate need for the new corporate manslaughter laws currently before Parliament, though as an unincorporated company, Daniel’s employer would not be covered by the Corporate Manslaughter law as it is currently worded.”
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