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Government approves preparation of "corporate manslaughter" bill

Bill paves the way for the introduction of criminal liability over workplace deaths and deaths arising from faulty products and services.

Image: OiMax via Creative Commons

THE GOVERNMENT HAS APPROVED the preparation of a Bill which introduces criminal liability for companies and for individual managers.

The preparation of the Criminal Justice (Corporate Manslaughter) Bill follows a recommendation made by the Law Reform Commission in its 2005 report “Corporate Killing”.

The LRC had recommended that corporate liability for manslaughter “be put on a statutory footing” and said that “a statutory definition of the offence is needed”.

The Department of Justice said in a statement that the new Bill would take the LRC’s recommendations into consideration and would allow for introduction of two new criminal offences: Corporate Manslaughter and Grossly Negligent Management Causing Death:

The former offence will provide for criminal liability for corporate fatalities to be attributed to the corporate entity with appropriately harsh monetary penalties, while the latter will provide for criminal liability to be attributed to an individual serving in a senior managerial role.

The second offence could result in a prison sentence.

Remarking on the government’s approval for the preparation of the Bill, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said:

I am conscious that gaps on the Statute Book may leave a bereaved family with no option but to pursue an action in the civil courts.

Our laws must be robust in this area. While the criminal law route should only be used where death has occurred as a result of flagrant abuse of the safety standards expected of companies and their managers, it is desirable that the criminal law would reflect the strength of societal disapproval for such events.

In 2009, the number of people who died in work-related accidents fell by 25% to 43, in comparison to figures for 2008, according to RTÉ. The number of deaths related to agricultural work fell by almost a half between 2008 and 2009, but agriculture and construction remained two of the most dangerous places to work in 2009.

Proposed offences covered by the new Bill would include all situations where a corporate or unincorporated body was responsible for a fatality due to the provision of a faulty product or service, not just deaths in the workplace.

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