UK: Corporate Manslaughter - The New Landscape

Last Updated: 19 August 2005
Article by Kevin Bridges

The government finally issued, in March 2005, its draft Bill on Corporate Manslaughter together with a consultation document. This comes almost 8 years after it pledged in its first manifesto to introduce a new offence of corporate killing. It is worth noting that the much more emotive title of "corporate killing" has been abandoned in this draft, the government preferring to stick with an offence of corporate manslaughter. The draft Bill will codify the law and in so doing abolish the common law offence of manslaughter by gross negligence in so far as it applies to corporations.

The main reason for introducing a reform of the law has been the very small number of successful prosecutions and the perceived ineffectiveness of the existing law to hold large companies to account where there has been a death. The consultation document quotes the following statistics: "since 1992 there have been 34 prosecution cases for work-related manslaughter but only six, small, organisations have been convicted". This stems from the difficulty in finding a senior individual personally guilty of gross negligence manslaughter before the company itself can be convicted of the same offence. That is, gross negligence on the part of somebody who is part of the controlling mind of the company. The Bill will abolish what has become known as the identification doctrine and will introduce a new, specific offence of corporate manslaughter.

The offence will be committed if there was a gross failing by an organisations senior manager(s) to take reasonable care for the safety of their employees or members of the public, which caused a persons death.

The offence will, as now, apply to all companies and other types of incorporated body (including many in the public sector, such as local authorities) and, for the first time, government departments and other Crown bodies. Much of the delay in introducing the new offence can be attributed to arguments about the extent to which there should be immunity carved out for the Crown. The consultation document states clearly that there will be no general Crown immunity and sets out in a Schedule those Crown bodies specifically affected. However, the offence will not apply to central government or public bodies responsible for matters of public policy or carrying out uniquely public functions as their accountability is achieved through Ministers in Parliament, public inquiries, judicial review, the Ombudsman or the ballot box. Other core public functions are also exempt and include government services in a civil emergency, or functions relating to the custody of prisoners.

The new offence is described as a grave criminal offence and as such, key elements of the current law are retained. For example, the need for an organisation to owe a duty of care to the victim and the higher threshold that conduct must have been grossly negligent. The consultation document emphasises that "…. the offence is to be reserved for cases of gross negligence".


This has been touched on already but the new offence will apply to all corporate bodies. This covers companies incorporated under company law, as well as other bodies incorporated under statute, or Royal Charter. For example, it will include local authorities, NHS Trusts and many non-departmental public bodies.

The Bill has jurisdictional limits and will only apply to deaths occurring within England and Wales, although Scotland and Northern Ireland are currently actively considering reforming the law in those jurisdictions. Whilst only deaths within these jurisdictions are caught, it is not necessary for the corporate defendant to have been incorporated in England or Wales. The Bill will extend to all companies, including foreign registered companies, who are operating within England and Wales. However, the Bill does not have extra-territorial jurisdiction, which means it will not apply to deaths of British Nationals abroad, even if they are employed and sent to work overseas by companies incorporated in England and Wales. Nevertheless, any suspicious death of a British National abroad can trigger an inquest (or fatal accident investigation in Scotland) which in turn can lead to the police and Health & Safety Executive investigating, from which other criminal charges can result.

Duty of Care

The organisation (corporation, government department or other body listed in the Schedule) can only be guilty of the offence if the way in which the organisations activities are managed or organised by its senior managers amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased and that breach caused the persons death.

What amounts to a relevant duty of care includes the duties owed by employers to employees, transport companies to passengers, manufacturers to users of products, those duties owed by construction companies and occupiers of premises, and those owed by a range of other service providers.

Management Failure

What lies at the heart of the new offence is the requirement for a management failure on the part of its senior managers. The test for management failure focuses on the way in which a particular activity was being managed or organised. It specifically targets responsibility on the working practices of organisations and considers questions about how, at a senior management level, activities were organised and/or managed. Unlike the existing common law, this allows senior management conduct to be considered collectively, as well as individually.

Criminality will only apply to the body corporate where there is gross negligence on the part of its senior managers, who are defined as "those who play a significant role in making management decisions about, or actually managing, the activities of the organisation as a whole, or a substantial part of it". At what precise point within an organisations structure this will apply depends on a number of factors, including the overall size of the organisation. However, the role played by the senior management in the relevant activity needs to be significant, which means decisive or substantial rather than minor or a supporting role.

The management failure by the organisations senior managers must amount to a gross breach of the organisations duty to take reasonable care. This is defined as conduct which falls far below what can reasonably be expected of the organisation. This will be a question for the jury, who will have to consider whether the organisation has failed to comply with any relevant health and safety legislation or guidance. This is widely drafted to mean not only the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and subordinate Regulations but also any code, guidance, manual or similar publication that is concerned with health and safety matters and is made or issued (under an enactment or otherwise) by an authority responsible for the enforcement of health and safety legislation, i.e. Approved Codes of Practice or guidance issued by the Health and Safety Executive.

In respect of such a failure, it will be for the jury to consider how serious it was, and if it amounts to gross negligence and therefore criminal liability, and whether or not the senior managers:-

  • knew or ought to have known that the organisation was failing to comply;
  • were aware or ought to have been aware of the risk of death or serious harm posed by the failure to comply; and
  • sought to cause the organisation to profit from the failure.


The draft Bill applies only to corporations (in its widest sense) and will not apply to individuals. Despite widespread criticism, principally from Trade Unions, this is a sensible approach, as the existing common law offence of gross negligence manslaughter will continue to apply to individuals as it does now. This aspect of the current law has not been criticised and applies to all individuals regardless of their seniority in the organisation, where by reason of their gross negligence a death ensues. Individuals can also be held to account in their personal capacity for specific offences under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.


Like the present law, fines will be unlimited and courts can also require that specific remedial action be taken to address, within a specified timeframe, the failures that led to the death. The use of remedial orders is already available under existing health and safety legislation but is seldom used. I envisage that the use of such orders by the courts will become more common place in cases of corporate manslaughter in the future and compliance with these orders could be expensive.

As now, the offence will be investigated by the police and prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service, using the Health and Safety Executive as advisors. The offence will be indictable and so all cases will be heard in the Crown court before a judge and jury.


The proposals contained within the draft Bill will create an offence that should be more effective in prosecuting companies and other organisations, which at present escape prosecution because of the difficulty in establishing gross negligence on the part of an individual embodying the company. However, the offence remains targeted at the worst cases of management failure causing death and is designed to capture truly corporate failings in the management of risk.

As well as the possibility of "very high fines", there are hidden costs associated with a successful prosecution for corporate manslaughter such as those involved in complying with a remedial order and the huge impact it will have on a companies reputation and its ability to tender for future work. Insurers will also look carefully at insurance premiums and whether they are prepared to insure the organisation at all in the future.

The Bill is designed to criminalise management's gross disregard for health and safety. It is therefore important for every organisation that falls within the scope of the draft Bill to audit its safety management system as a matter of priority, and to take immediate steps to ensure its systems for managing health and safety are effective and encourage the development of a positive safety culture.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.