BREAKING NEWS – First conviction of Corporate Manslaughter
On 15 February 2011 Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings became the first company to be convicted of the offence of Corporate Manslaughter which came into force in April 2008.
The prosecution was brought after a 27 year old geologist employed by the company died after he was left working alone in a 3.8 metre deep trench at a development site in Gloucestershire. The trench began to collapse on top of the geologist and, despite the best efforts of one of his colleagues who had heard him shout for help, he was unable to be saved as the trench caved in.
A company Director was charged with the offence of individual manslaughter, but the court had earlier decided that he was not fit to stand trial on this charge. The case proceeded against the company alone.
The jury in the case found that Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings` system of working was unnecessarily dangerous and in ignorance of established industry guidelines. The action taken by the company in requiring their employee to work in the unsupported trial pit made the company directly responsible for his death. The jury found the company guilty.
The Judge in the case said that the incident was a gross breach of the company`s duty to its employee and the approach of the Director concerned was "extremely irresponsible and dangerous".
The penalty for the offence in relation to corporate bodies is an unlimited fine. Guidance suggests that a fine should typically be in the region of £500,000.
In this case, even after accepting that the company was in an impecunious financial state, the court imposed a fine of £385,000 demonstrating the serious view it took of the case.
Whether this case ultimately assists in the way the courts will interpret the legislation is dubious, but the court has sent a resounding message with the fine it handed down.
For more information please contact Jennifer Sewell or Chris Platts of Rollits Regulatory Group on 01482 323239
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.