Ray state : Saturday January 29, 2000
Where does corporate responsibility go now?
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.
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