First Corporate Manslaughter case to be heard

27th May 2009

On 17 June the first case under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (“the Act”) will be heard.

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings (“the Company”) has been charged with the criminal offence of corporate manslaughter, following the death of a 27 year old employee Alexander Wright.

Mr Wright was killed in September last year when a pit collapsed whilst he was taking soil samples from a building site in Gloucestershire. A Company director, has also been charged with the common law offence of gross negligence manslaughter and he could be jailed for life if convicted. The maximum sentence for the Company is an unlimited fine. The Company and the director also face health and safety charges.

Under the Act an organisation will be guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which its activities are managed or organised:

• Causes a person’s death; and

• Amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed to that person.

An organisation cannot be convicted of the offence unless the prosecution can prove that a substantial element of the breach lies in the way that the organisation’s senior management managed or organised its activities.

Employers and directors are well advised to:

• Keep their health and safety systems under review;

• Ensure that members of staff are adequately trained to implement those systems; and,

• Review the terms of their liability insurance to check that recoverable legal costs incurred under the Act would be covered.

Commentators consider this case to be the tip of the iceberg as many employers, especially those in the building trade, may find it increasingly hard to maintain their health and safety systems in the current economic climate. The decision is eagerly awaited by directors and businesses alike and will finally provide some insight as to how this legislation is likely to be interpreted by the courts.