Corporations 'must pay' for killings

CORPORATIONS should face legal action for manslaughter, says a report which aims to prevent cases like the King's Cross fire and Piper Alpha disaster after which no prosecutions were brought.

The Law Commission says inquiries into recent disasters found corporate bodies seriously at fault but no successful prosecutions for manslaughter were brought against them.

Currently, prosecutions for corporate manslaughter can be brought only where the “controlling mind” of a company or body is found to have caused an unlawful death.

The only conviction of a corporation for manslaughter was in the Lyme Bay canoeing disaster, in which the company was a one-man operation and it was, therefore, easy to identify the “controlling mind”.

The commission proposes there should be an offence of “corporate killing” and that a corporation should be liable to prosecution if a management failure resulted in a person's death and if the failure constituted conduct far below what could reasonably be expected of the corporation.

It wants convicted corporations to be fined an unlimited sum and to remedy the cause of death.

The report was welcomed by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, whose president Michael Napier said: “Real accountability of companies for gross negligence that causes loss of life will promote safety.”

But the Trades Union Congress called the report “window dressing” and said it should have extended the punishments available to courts to jail sentences. TUC general secretary John Monks said: “The prospect of a prison sentence would demonstrate how seriously society views manslaughter.”

Law Commissioner Stephen Silber QC said the commission only considered corporate liability in its report and jail sentences for individuals had always been possible.