The Corporate Manslaughter & Corporate Homicide act 2007 was much talked about when it first came into legislation but then took time to be used by the CPS. However, we have now seen five companies convicted under Corporate Manslaughter; two in November 2013.
In one case the judge sentenced J Murray & Sons Ltd to pay a fine of £100,000 and costs of £10,450 and allowed the business to pay in instalments of £20,000 as he did not want to see the company be forced out of business. In the other the company was fined £135,000 which represented the total assets of the company; he also indicted if the company had still been solvent he would have given a fine that would have led to its closure.
Clearly these show contrasting judgements are being taken and makes it difficult to predict how the courts will view cases in the future. What has become clear however is the willingness of the CPS to charge companies under this legislation has increased. However a pattern is emerging that the businesses being prosecuted are not large profitable organisations. Also although the guidance provided to the courts was the starting point for fines should be £500,000 this so far has not been applied.
To date all but one of the five businesses prosecuted has pleaded guilty and maybe this accounts for the lower levels of fines. Of these guilty pleas some have come in exchange for dropping cases against individual directors and others because there was no realistic prospect of defending the case.
We may not be seeing fines at the levels originally expected but what is clear is the CPS have many other cases currently being processed and most of these appear to be aimed at smaller owner managed companies.