Before the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, an organisation could only be convicted of manslaughter if a 'directing mind' – i.e. a senior manager or director – was also personally liable, but this did not reflect the reality of the way decisions are made in large organisations and as a result there were very few prosecutions.
An organisation is guilty of the offence of corporate manslaughter if the way in which it manages or organises its activities causes a death and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care to the deceased. A substantial part of the breach must have been in the way activities were managed by the senior management of the organisation.
The offence of gross negligence manslaughter continues to apply to individuals, however. Prosecutions against individuals are taken where there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to do so.
Following a consultation exercise, the Sentencing Council for England and Wales has introduced the new 'Manslaughter – Definitive Guideline', which sets out how offenders convicted of manslaughter should be sentenced in England and Wales. In cases of gross negligence manslaughter, judges are being advised to consider a sentence of life imprisonment for the most serious culprits, with a recommendation that they serve at least 18 years before being eligible for parole.
In a workplace setting, the offence could cover individual employers whose long-standing and serious disregard for the safety of employees, motivated by cost cutting, results in someone being killed. The guideline applies to sentences handed down from 1 November 2018.
If someone is killed because their employer, carer or another person who owed them a duty of care showed a blatant disregard for health and safety law, the individual responsible will now face a stiffer punishment. It is hoped that this will act as a deterrent and reduce the number of workplace accidents.