Trade Union solicitors Thompsons have welcomed today’s Corporate Manslaughter Bill but condemned a wasted opportunity to improve workplace safety. The government has introduced the bill which is intended to make companies liable for any deaths caused by gross negligence.

The bill applies to corporate bodies and abolishes crown immunity, which will be welcomed by many. The test for corporate manslaughter is based on the actions of a senior manager of a corporation which result in death which amounts to a gross breach of duty of care. The penalty is an unlimited fine and a remedial order.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 220 people were killed at work during 2004/5. The HSE found that a high percentage of these deaths were due to managers cutting corners - in effect gambling with human life.

Missed Opportunity to improve Health & Safety at Work

Mick Antoniw of Thompsons Solicitors – a firm which represents many families involved with fatal accidents at work - comments: “We welcome the Bill. It is a major step forward. However, we are not confident it will be effective. The government has missed a great opportunity to give the bill real teeth. The lack of any clear guidelines on penalties means that current fines are likely to be no greater than under existing health and safety law. There is also no provision for the disqualification of directors who fail to ensure their companies put safety above profit. The failure to introduce more flexible penalties such as corporate probation is another lost opportunity.”

“Unless there are significant penalties, companies will not take the legislation seriously and the impact of the new law on deaths and injuries at work will be minimal. We will be pressing MPs to introduce amendments to strengthen the Bill. The government must get to the root of the problem which is that penalties must be effective and directors of companies which kill people must be held to account.”

Another criticism of the Bill is that it does not cover unincorporated bodies. For example, Thompsons and the GMB trade union are currently challenging the Crown Prosecution Service by judicial review for failing to bring manslaughter charges against an unincorporated roofing company. The case concerns the Dennis family from Bridgend, South Wales, following the tragic death of their teenager son Daniel Dennis. Daniel died in April 2003 when he fell from a roof he had been working on in Cwmbran, South Wales. A hearing date is currently awaited. However the new law would not affect this case. This loophole in the bill means that the family was unable to get justice under the old law and won't be covered by the new law.

Daniel’s father, Peter Dennis said: "I am pleased the government is doing something at long last. But it is clearly not enough. The company that killed my son couldn't be prosecuted under the new law and the CPS won't bring charges under the old law. There are too many loopholes and unless the penalties are severe, these rogue companies will carry on killing innocent workers."

Following the Hatfield rail crash which killed four people and injured dozens more in October 2000, efforts to bring corporate manslaughter charges against Balfour Beatty and Network Rail bosses collapsed last year. Under current law it has to be shown that the firm's "controlling mind", often its most senior figure, was responsible, rather than a wider negligence across the firm. There was further criticism when the court of appeal reduced the fine.

To read previous news stories about corporate manslaughter visit 'Daughter calls for answers over father’s tragic death at work', 'Hatfield Crash Companies Awarded £20.9m', 'Families urge Government to ensure the Corporate Manslaughter Bill is tough on rogue employers', 'Family from Bridgend attempts to take Crown Prosecution Service to court following teenager’s tragic death', 'Thompsons welcomes government report on corporate manslaughter', 'Urgent need for new law after Hatfield prosecution failure', 'Next government must end workplace deaths', 'Next government must end workplace deaths', 'Notts firm admits blame for death of worker', 'Corporate killing proposals let company directors off hook', 'New protocol but workplace accident investigations still dice with death', 'Lawyers call for law change after farmer escapes jail for death of biker', 'Thompsons welcomes government report on corporate manslaughter', 'Unions and lawyers demand ministers stand firm on corporate killing law', 'Directors should be prosecuted over death of labourer, lawyers demand', 'Company bosses should face prison for breaches of health and safety that result in the deaths of employees'.

Read Thompsons' briefing on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill.