The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act created the offence of “corporate manslaughter” allowing for the prosecution of organisations where very serious failings in the management of activities have resulted in death. In England and Wales and Northern Ireland the offence is Corporate Manslaughter, in Scotland it is “Corporate Homicide”.

An organisation is guilty of the offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised (including not managed and not organised) causes a death and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care to the deceased. The way in which senior management organises and manages their health and safety responsibilities is a substantial part of the consideration of whether there has or has not been a breach.

The offence was introduced to address a defect in the law that meant that organisations could only be convicted of manslaughter (homicide in Scotland) if a “directing mind” at the top of the company (such as a director) was also personally liable. The reality of decision making in large organisations did not reflect this and the law therefore failed to provide proper accountability or justice for victims. The new offence allows an organisation’s liability to be assessed on a much wider basis, providing a more effective means of accountability for very serious management failings across the organisation.

The offence is heard in the higher courts and sentencing guidelines indicate that “punitive and significant fines should be imposed both to deter and to reflect public concern at avoidable loss of life.” They go on to suggest that fines may be millions of pounds and should seldom be below £500,000.