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UK:
Where does corporate responsibility go now?

 Ray state : Saturday January 29, 2000
The fiasco of the Southall court case and its effect on the delay in determining of the cause of the 1997 accident may or may not have had repercussions on the accident at Ladbroke Grove.
What we do know is that Mr Justice Scott-Baker, the judge in the case, was scathing in his criticism of the Government in not addressing the laws on Corporate Responsibility.

Following the failure to prosecute any of the companies or individuals concerned in the Southall accident, the Deputy Prime Minister Mr Prescott was quick to make statements about the intention to revise the law on Corporate Manslaughter. On the 22nd August, following a report on the Marchioness riverboat disaster, Mr Prescott said, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, "Companies responsible for tragedies such as the Marchioness must not be allowed to get off the hook just because no one individual can be blamed".

He went on to promise new laws to punish companies behaving in an unsafe and sloppy way. Such a law was drafted as early as 1996. Following the failure of the court case associated with the Herald of Free Enterprise the Law Commission deliberated on the shape of a revision to the laws on manslaughter and report 237 not only put forward arguments for change but also had a draft bill.

With all this posturing and statement-making it was with anticipation that we awaited the Queen’s Speech in November. However, not a word about this bill was forthcoming and since then silence has reigned.

The reason is not hard to find. On the one hand, progressing legislation is bound to be unpopular with businesses which, for a Government approaching its third year of office is not a wise thing. On the other hand, if the truth about an accident is to be established by an inquiry then a pending prosecution will restrict the presentation of key facts and restrict the ability to determine the true cause and the related remedies.

In the case of the imminent Ladbroke Grove Inquiry it is likely that executives called to give evidence will be given protection from potential self-incrimination to enable the reasons for the disaster to be determined quickly.

This rules out any possibility of any Corporate Manslaughter charges being raised. In view of this, it is difficult to see how any prosecution can be a brought in respect of Ladbroke Grove, even if severe dereliction of the duty of care is established.

The travelling public have a right to know what protection they have under the law and how companies which take risks are to be punished. Dr Knapman, the Westminster Coroner at the time of the Clapham accident (1989), defined the aspects of risk taking in relation to manslaughter very succinctly.

Summarised, his statement said that if the consequence of a risk is clear and obvious and despite this consequence being known, the risk is taken and death ensues then a charge of unlawful killing is sustainable. Such a conclusion could lead to a charge of manslaughter. What the Government has to do is define the circumstances under which this can be applied to Corporations.

Ignoring the issues and hoping they will go away is not an option. Come on Mr Prescott lets get on with it.


Join the discussion

Links


Marchioness group welcomes inquiry
Electronic Telegraph
19 Aug 1999


Directors may face charges after disasters
Electronic Telegraph
3 Aug 1997


'We must have all questions answered' - The Marchioness disaster
Guardian Unlimited
19 Aug 1999


Marchioness families win inquiry 10 years on
Guardian Unlimited
19 Aug 1999


Renewed call for radical shake-up in dealing with disasters following Paddington Train Crash (pdf)
Association of Personal Injury Lawyers 06 Oct 1999

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This file last updated: Saturday, 05-Feb-2000 11:48:42 EST
Copyright © David Fry 1999