Common sense and corporate manslaughter

Share
Related Topics

To the families of those who were killed in the Hatfield rail crash four years ago, the postponement of the Government's plans to toughen up legislation on corporate killing must feel like a kick in the teeth. Earlier this week, their case against former executives of Railtrack, including the chief executive, Gerald Corbett, was thrown out of court. This new legislation, which Labour has been promising to introduce for more than a decade, would not affect their specific case, but would represent an official vindication of their cause. Now it is a distant prospect.

To the families of those who were killed in the Hatfield rail crash four years ago, the postponement of the Government's plans to toughen up legislation on corporate killing must feel like a kick in the teeth. Earlier this week, their case against former executives of Railtrack, including the chief executive, Gerald Corbett, was thrown out of court. This new legislation, which Labour has been promising to introduce for more than a decade, would not affect their specific case, but would represent an official vindication of their cause. Now it is a distant prospect.

But that is no bad thing. Indeed, the Government would be wise to drop its plans to change the law in this area altogether. Of course, if a chief executive or company chairman has endangered lives through negligence or greed, he ought to be prosecuted. But the present corporate manslaughter law allows for that. The case against Mr Corbett and other Railtrack executives was dropped because there was insufficient evidence that the accident at Hatfield occurred because profit had been put before safety. Indeed, the case was so weak that the Crown Prosecution Service had given up on the corporate manslaughter charge and tried to prosecute under health and safety legislation. Yet even this failed.

This is not to say that managers should not accept responsibility or lose their job - as Corbett did by his resignation - when disasters occur on their watch. But this is very different from making them, and the company, directly culpable, which would be the effect of a new law allowing prosecutions for systemic failures to maintain health and safety standards.

The effects on business of such a law must be considered. Rather than make managers more responsible, it would paralyse initiatives and inflate costs. The consumer would ultimately be the loser. If managers are found knowingly to have compromised safety, they ought to be prosecuted. But it is unrealistic and unfair to introduce legislation that would enshrine the presumption that someone must be to blame if an accident occurs. Such a knee-jerk response to tragedy serves no one's interests.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Critics of Fiona Woolf say she should step down amid accusations of an establishment cover-up  

Fiona Woolf resignation: As soon as she became the story, she had to leave

James Ashton
 

Letters: Electorate should be given choice on drugs policy

Independent Voices
Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities