Southall: Driver & GWT not guilty of Manslaughter
from our Safety Correspondent : Friday, July 02, 1999
Judge hits out at lawmakers' inertia
Mr Justice Scott-Baker criticised the lack of progress in bringing about changes in the law relating to corporate responsiblity and manslughter.
The not guilty verdicts on manslaughter charges against Great Western Trains have served to underline the present unsatisfactory situation that requires it to be shown that a single director was responsible before a prosectuion can suceed.
The conclusion of the judgement in the case is reproduced below:
"The only basis on which the Prosecution may advance a case in manslaughter against the Company is by identifying some person within the Company whose gross negligence was that of GWT itself. The doctrine of personal liability, relevant in some cases of breach of statutory duty, is not applicable. The law is, in my judgment, clear and well settled, a view which I believe is shared by the Law Commission. It is not for Judges to change the law; that is a matter for Parliament. Were the law otherwise, and the Crown entitled to advance its case on the basis of personal liability of the company a conviction, assuming gross negligence to be proved, would mark public abhorrence of a slipshod safety system leading to seven deaths and many injured victims. The sanction would be a financial penalty. There is, however, a further charge on the indictment which does not face the same obstacle. It is under Section 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and alleges failure to conduct the Company in such a way as to ensure that members of the public were not exposed to safety risks. The Court's powers on conviction are just the same as with manslaughter -- an unlimited fine. Furthermore, in seeking to establish that case the Crown alleges precisely the same facts as in the manslaughter offences. My ruling, therefore (which effectively means that the Crown cannot proceed with manslaughter) has little practical effect save to eliminate the opprobrium that would follow a manslaughter conviction. There are many who say that the present state of the law is unsatisfactory and that the present obstacle to prosecuting large corporations for manslaughter should be removed. However, if the law is to be changed it is up to Parliament to do so. The Law Commission recommended legislation over three years ago but nothing has been forthcoming. There is little purpose in the Law Commission making recommendations if they are to be allowed to lie for years on a shelf gathering dust."
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