law pages of Bournemouth and Poole College.
The first conviction and sentence under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, occurred this week when Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings was fined £385,000.
In September 2008, Alex Wright, a young geologist employed by the company was investigating soil conditions in a deep trench, which collapsed and killed him.
The case is the first of its kind and is the first test of how the Sentencing Guidelines on Corporate Manslaughter (issued in February 2010) might be interpreted and applied. It is clear that it would not be unreasonable to expect fines in the millions (rather than hundreds of thousands) of pounds and a starting point for fines is £500,000, which is far higher than Health and Safety fines.
Whilst the objective of sentencing is to provide adequate deterrent to other companies who may commit health and safety offences, it should not have the effect of putting the company out of business and causing employees to lose their jobs.
The judge described Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings as in a “parlous financial state”, and the low fine reflects their inability to pay, nevertheless. the fine is considerable and sets the tone for future corporate manslaughter cases.
At Winchester Crown Court yesterday, Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings became the first company to be convicted of the offence of corporate manslaughter under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
The conviction by jury follows a lengthy trial into the death of Alex Wright, a young geologist employed by the company, on 5 September 2008. Mr Wright is believed to have died whilst investigating soil conditions in a deep trench, which collapsed and killed him.
The case against Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings was directed at the company’s failure to protect the young geologist from working in dangerous conditions such as the trench. In convicting the company, the jury found that the system of digging trial pits was unnecessarily dangerous and that in doing so, the company was ignoring well-recognised industry guidance in this area. To prove the offence, the Crown had to establish that the way in which its activities were managed or organised by its senior management formed a substantial element of the breach. In addition there had to be a gross breach of the relevant duty of care by the company charged with the offence i.e. the breach had to fall well below the standard that would normally be expected of it.
The case itself has suffered a number of delays due to concerns regarding the company director, Peter Eaton’s health. He was originally charged with gross negligence manslaughter but a judge has ruled that he is too unwell to stand trial.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force on 6 April 2008 and was heralded as new era of corporate accountability for health and safety offences in the wake of a number of high profile health and safety incidents such as the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry disaster, Hatfield rail crash and the Transco explosion in Larkhall. Since its coming into force, there has been much speculation about how the first prosecution for the offence of corporate manslaughter would arise and what type of company and what industry might be involved.
Commentators have expressed disappointment that this first corporate manslaughter case concerned such a (relatively) small organisation. At the time of the incident, Geotechnical employed only 8 people and it has been suggested that it does not have the size or status of the type of corporate entity that the new legislation was expected to capture. Nonetheless, it provides a useful and welcome insight into the first application of the legislation. The company will be sentenced tomorrow and we will report further on the case.
Lord Hoffmann cites the prisoner voting issue as an example of the way the Strasbourg court has taken “extraordinary power to micromanage the legal systems” of the member states which needs to end.
Writing the introduction to a report by the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange, Lord Hoffmann says: “Since 9/11 there have been enough real and serious invasions of traditional English freedoms to make it tragic that the very concept of human rights is being trivialised by silly interpretations of grand ideas.”
Lord Hoffmann argues that the list of human rights enshrined in the 1950 European Convention, which now forms part of British law, is “admirable”. But he says that since then they have been misinterpreted by judges in Strasbourg to such an extent that they have become discredited.
University is not the only route to a successful career in law and the legal executive route allows a student to be in paid employment whilst the study with ILEX. The Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice is equivalent to A-level.
ILEX is the professional body representing around 22,000 qualified and trainee Legal Executives, and is recognised by the Ministry of Justice as one of the three core routes to becoming a qualified lawyer.
Trainee legal executives can be valuable fee-earners for their firms as soon as they have gained their initial qualification, and a former legal executive, Ian Ashley-Smith, was made a deputy district judge on the South Eastern Circuit in December 2010.