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Companies face order to publicise corporate manslaughter conviction

Companies convicted of corporate manslaughter could be forced to take out adverts publicising their conviction as a result of new measures which come into effect today.

Courts will now be able to hand out publicity orders to firms and public bodies where gross corporate health and safety failures caused a person’s death. Companies can already be hit with an unlimited fine or be forced to improve safety in the workplace.

Justice Minister Maria Eagle commented: “Fines hit irresponsible companies in their wallet, but public image is also extremely important. Forcing corporations and organisations to publicise their conviction will be a powerful deterrent, making them think of the reputational as well as financial risk of not taking their health and safety responsibilities seriously.

The innovative new publicity orders, thought to be the first of their kind to be introduced in the UK, could compel companies to inform shareholders, customers and (in the case of local authorities, hospital trusts and police forces) local people of the conviction, giving details of the case, the fine imposed and the any remedial work they have been ordered to do. The publicity order could require the company to put a statement on its website or make an announcement in a newspaper.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force on 6 April 2008. In England and Wales and Northern Ireland, the new offence is called corporate manslaughter, and in Scotland it is called corporate homicide.

A charge of corporate manslaughter can be brought if:

  • the way in which an organisation’s activities are managed or organised: causes a person’s death; and
  • amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.

A substantial part of the failure must have been at senior level.

The offence applies to all companies and other corporate bodies. It also applies to partnerships and to trade unions and employers’ associations, if they are an employer, as well as to government departments and police forces.

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