The offence of corporate manslaughter was introduced to improve public safety by ensuring companies and other organisations can be held accountable for serious failings which result in death.
While individual people cannot commit corporate manslaughter, the law applies all corporate bodies operating in the UK as well as various public and private bodies.
The offence was created by Section 1 of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 and came into force on 6th April 2008. Sentencing guidelines suggest a maximum fine of £20 million for any organisation found guilty.
The offence of corporate manslaughter applies to all companies and other corporate bodies operating in the UK, whether they are incorporated in the UK or overseas. Public bodies such as NHS Trusts, local authorities, police forces and certain government departments can also be held liable.
Individuals cannot commit this offence. However, if there are suspicions that identifiable directors or managers committed gross failings then these individuals may be investigated for the offence of gross negligence manslaughter.
In order to be found guilty of corporate manslaughter the following four matters must be proven as true:
While most corporate manslaughter allegations will be investigated by a police force, in many cases police officers will liaise with the relevant regulatory body and also the Health and Safety Executive during the course of their investigation. These bodies may conduct their own parallel investigations into any regulatory offences, or offences under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Generally speaking, a ‘duty of care’ is a legal obligation imposed on an individual or organisation which ensures the safety of others.
In this case, the relevant duties of care are defined by Section 2(1) of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. They are all obligations which fall under the civil law of negligence and include, the duties an employer must show its employees; or duties relating to the safety of goods or services supplied the public.
If there is any dispute as to whether an organisation owes a duty of care, this is a matter for a judge, rather than a jury, to determine.
In order to be convicted of corporate manslaughter an organisation has to be proven to have committed a gross breach of its duty of care. Precisely what constitutes ‘gross’ in this context is therefore important.
The threshold for establishing negligence has reached the ‘gross’ level is extremely high. It is defined by Section 1(4)(b) as “a breach of a duty of care…..[that]… falls far below what can reasonably be expected of the organisation in the circumstances”.
To emphasise how high the gross breach threshold is, juries in some recent corporate manslaughter trials have been given the following judicial direction (originally from R. v. Misra  EWCA Crim 2375):
“Mistakes, even very serious mistakes, and errors of judgment, even very serious errors of judgment, and the like, are nowhere near enough for a crime as serious as manslaughter to be committed […..] Concentrate on whether […the conduct you are considering…] fell so far below the standard to be expected of a reasonably competent and careful senior house officer that it was something, in your assessment, truly exceptionally bad, and which showed such an indifference to an obviously serious risk to the life of [the deceased…]
In order to prove manslaughter, there must be a causal link between the gross breach of the duty of care and the death. Crucially, in order for the charge to be proven there cannot be any intervening act which breaks chain of causation.
However, there is no requirement in law for an organisation’s act (or its omission) to be the sole or main cause of death. In some manslaughter cases it is sufficient to be a substantial cause of death.
Hickman & Rose’s senior lawyers have a proven track record in defending organisations accused of manslaughter. Relevant experience includes representing ITH Pharma Ltd, under investigation for corporate manslaughter between 2014 and 2018, in relation to the deaths of three patients allegedly linked to the supply of medicinal products manufactured by them.
Corporate Manslaughter cases are often extremely complicated. Successfully defending them requires mastering a significant amount of complex technical detail. Hickman & Rose prides itself on its success in these matters and its dedication to explore every possible avenue of defence.