Letter: Workplace deaths

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The Independent Culture
Sir: David Bergman of the Centre for Corporate Accountability is wrong to say that the Crown Prosecution Service appears to prefer to blame workers rather than directors for deaths in the workplace (letter, 1 December).

The CPS has on a number of occasions prosecuted directors for manslaughter by gross negligence. However, convictions are difficult to achieve because of the way the law stands, requiring an individual "directing mind" to be identified.

This was illustrated in the case of R v GWT concerning the Southall rail crash, where the judge ruled that a company cannot be prosecuted for manslaughter unless such an individual can be identified. The CPS is appealing this decision by way of an Attorney General's reference because we need to have the law clarified.

In the Herald of Free Enterprise case the CPS prosecuted directors and workers. However, when the court ruled that the directors had no case to answer, the CPS did not proceed further against the workers.

If evidence suggests the fault lies with a worker who has, in spite of properly devised systems, caused death by gross negligence, the worker will be prosecuted. If the death has been caused by a gross failure of a system within the company, so that the worker is, in effect, the victim, the CPS will attempt to identify a directing mind who can be proved to have acted - or omitted to act - in a grossly negligent way.

Mr Bergman also calls for a government review of the law. This is currently being looked at by a Home Office working group, which is considering the Law Commission's recommendations on corporate killing.

DAVID CALVERT-SMITH QC

Director of Public Prosecutions

London EC4

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