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Corporate Homicide: Expert Group Report 2005


1. Introduction

1.1 On 15 April Cathy Jamieson, the Minister for Justice, set up the Expert Group on Corporate Homicide. The Group's remit was "to review the law in Scotland on corporate liability for culpable homicide and to submit a report to the Minister for Justice by the summer, taking into account the proposals recently published by the Home Secretary."

1.2 The Expert Group consisted of representatives from the business, trade union, legal, public and academic sectors:

Dr Richard Scott, Scottish Executive Justice Department, (Chair)
Jim Brisbane, Deputy Crown Agent, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
Stewart Campbell, Director, Health and Safety Executive, Scotland
Michael P. Clancy, OBE, Director, Law Reform, Law Society of Scotland
Professor Hazel Croall, Professor of Criminology, Glasgow Caledonian University
John Downie, Federation of Small Businesses (resigned w.e.f. May 2005)
Karen Gillon, MSP
Professor Russel Griggs, representing the CBI
Patrick McGuire, STUC legal advisor
Scott Steven, representing Scottish Chamber of Commerce (joined July 2005)
Ian Tasker, Health and Safety Officer, STUC
Dr Dave Whyte, lecturer in sociology and criminology at Stirling University

1.3 John Downie resigned from his position with the Federation of Small Businesses in May 2005. The Federation decided not to take up the offer of recommending another representative. An additional business representative, Scott Steven, was nominated by the Scottish Chamber of Commerce and appointed in July 2005.

1.4 The Group has considered this complex area very carefully. We have taken evidence from a range of stakeholders and other experts. We are also aware of developments in a number of other countries similarly seeking to address the issue of the criminal liability of organisations for the unintentional death or serious injury of employees or members of the public. This is an area of the law which has proved particularly challenging for other jurisdictions, particularly those with laws based on the identification or controlling mind principle. We found no model from these other jurisdictions which we consider could be simply adapted for Scotland, although there are aspects of the approaches taken in Australia and Canada which are of interest. However, many of these models remain untested, either because legislation has not yet been forthcoming, or because where legislation has been enacted there is limited experience of its use. The Group therefore acknowledges that there is a lack of empirical evidence of how changes to legislation in this area would affect the working practices of organisations and lead to a reduction in the number of deaths.

1.5 This report sets out our initial findings. On a number of issues there were significant differences among members on the best way forward. The report reflects these 1. 2.

2. Background

2.1 In Scotland, over the nine years to March 2005, an average of 30 workers (employees and self employed) each year are killed at work. On average a further 9 members of the public die each year as a result of work-related activities. These figures do not include deaths on the railways, many of which are suicides. Other work related deaths will include cases of mesothelioma related to past asbestos exposure; deaths as a result of fires at the place of work; deaths from food poisoning associated with "commercial" sources of food; deaths involved in the sea fishing industry and road deaths while a person is at work. These can amount to several hundred each year although clearly not all these deaths will fall into the category of corporate killing.

Culpable homicide

2.2 An organisation 3 can be convicted of a common law crime in Scotland. If circumstances warrant it, an organisation may be prosecuted on a charge of culpable homicide. The crime of culpable homicide applies where the perpetrator might not have intended to kill the victim but nonetheless behaved so recklessly and with such complete disregard or indifference to the potential dangers and possible consequences that the law considers there is responsibility for the death. However, there has only been one prosecution of a company in Scotland for the crime of culpable homicide - the Transco case 4 - and that particular charge was subsequently dismissed by the Appeal Court as being irrelevant in law. Transco was subsequently successfully prosecuted for the alternative statutory offence of a contravention of sections 3 and 33 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The court imposed a fine of £15m. This was the highest penalty imposed under these provisions by some considerable degree.

2.3 The original Transco case highlighted the key problem with the current common law - that while in theory it is possible to prosecute a complex organisation for culpable homicide there are practical difficulties in doing so. In reaching its decision in the Transco case, the Criminal Appeal Court examined the current common law on corporate culpable homicide in Scotland and, in particular, considered three main issues:

  • the scope of the mental element or guilty mind ( mens rea) necessary to establish culpable homicide.
  • the competency of charging a company with this offence.
  • the relevance of the allegations which the prosecution had identified to demonstrate the company's guilt.

2.4 The Court found that it was competent to charge a company with culpable homicide. However, drawing on previous case law, the Court confirmed that the crime of culpable homicide requires proof of mens rea. In the case of companies, it is necessary to identify the involvement of an individual (or group of individuals) who constitutes the "controlling mind" of the company. In other words, an individual of sufficient seniority ( i.e. whose acts and state of mind can be said to represent that of the company) must be found to be criminally responsible for the offence, that is, possessing the necessary guilty mind. It is this guilty mind which is then attributed to the company. This is known as the 'identification principle'.

2.5 There are a number of problems associated with this identification principle. For example, the attribution of liability is associated with the conduct and states of mind of individuals. In organisations with complex, dynamic and diffuse organisational structures, it may be difficult to identify individuals at a senior level who are sufficiently directly involved to enable their state of mind to constitute the mens rea of the organisation. This makes it difficult when prosecuting an offence at common law to pinpoint the controlling mind in any but the very simplest type of organisation. It is further complicated by the fact that corporate structures, the make-up of groups and the positions held by individuals, inevitably change over the course of time. The Court considered that the relevant individuals must be the same throughout the commission of the offence.

2.6 In addition, in considering the allegations which the prosecution had identified as demonstrating Transco's guilt, the Court expressly stated that the law of Scotland does not recognise the principle of 'aggregation', whereby conduct and states of mind of a number of people over a period of time, none of whom individually could be said to have possessed the necessary mens rea, might nonetheless be accumulated so that they collectively could provide the necessary mens rea which is then attributed to the corporate body.

2.7 The implication of the Appeal Court judgement in the Transco case is, therefore, that complex organisations cannot in practice be prosecuted for culpable homicide. The Group considers that this gap in the criminal law needs to be addressed and that the law should be amended to enable such organisations to be prosecuted for culpable deaths arising from their activities. A number of observers have suggested that the outcome of the case against Transco on health and safety charges - in particular the record fine imposed by the Court - shows that health and safety legislation is strong and effective. They therefore question the need for a change in the law on culpable homicide. Most members of the Group, however, do not feel that the Transco verdict and sentence obviate the need to amend the law in this area. This view also seems to be reflected in public opinion. This is discussed further below.

Health & Safety legislation

2.8 In addition to the existing common law offence of culpable homicide, employers, the self employed, individual employees and individual directors can also be prosecuted for health and safety offences brought under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the regulations made thereunder. The Act places duties on employers to ensure so far as reasonably practicable the health and safety of employees and others who may be affected by their undertaking. ( N.B. A number of regulations made under the Act do not allow a defence based on what is 'reasonably practicable'). The Act makes no distinction between failures which cause death and failures which do not cause death and therefore there is no specific offence under this Act regarding death in the workplace.

2.9 Most health and safety prosecutions are against organisations, as breaches usually result from a chain of decisions and are rarely the fault of one person, although individual workers and directors can be, and are, prosecuted when appropriate. There is no mens rea in relation to health and safety offences. Organisations are considered vicariously liable for the physical acts of their employees which give rise to a breach regardless of intent and regardless of whether the breach arises from the actions of one or more employees. The maximum penalty following conviction of an organisation is an unlimited fine, although lesser maximum penalties apply for particular offences. Individuals convicted of certain offences can be jailed for up to 6 months, although this has almost never happened in Scotland.

3. Draft Bill for England and Wales

3.1 The Group considered a number of models of addressing corporate liability for culpable homicide in other jurisdictions. We paid particular attention to the proposals by the Home Secretary for the creation of a new statutory offence of corporate manslaughter in England and Wales 5. We consider that it would, in principle, be desirable for the approaches of the UK jurisdictions to be aligned, although we note that the existing law on manslaughter/culpable homicide is not aligned. The HSE representative considered that alignment would be helpful for operational reasons. The business representatives felt strongly that alignment of legislation across the UK was the overriding factor in order to avoid deterring companies from investing in Scotland. However, the majority of members feel that alignment is secondary to getting the law right for Scotland. We all agree that alignment need not be on the basis of the current Home Office proposals, on which we have a number of reservations. Indeed, the Group believes that the approach which we outline below provides a useful basis for amending the law in all UK jurisdictions, not just in Scotland.

3.2 The Home Secretary's draft Bill proposals for England and Wales would essentially put the existing common law of manslaughter on a statutory basis insofar as it applies to organisations, while addressing problems with identification (including the inability to 'aggregate' conduct). An organisation would be guilty of the new offence if the way in which its "senior managers" managed or organised its activities caused a person's death and there was a gross breach of a duty of care which the organisation owed that person as their employer or the occupier of land, or in supplying goods or services or performing a commercial activity. A "senior manager" is someone who either manages or organises a whole or substantial part of an organisations' activities, or makes decision about how they are managed or organised. The offence would be reserved for a management failure that fell far below what could be reasonably expected. The draft Bill provides a framework for assessing the organisation's conduct and includes a clear link with standards imposed by health and safety legislation and guidance on how these should be discharged. This principle of duty of care, which is drawn from the civil law of negligence, is familiar to the English law of manslaughter. However, the 'duty of care' does not feature in the Scottish criminal law of culpable homicide.

3.3 The draft Bill was published for pre-legislative scrutiny and Home Office hopes it will be introduced into the House of Commons later this session.

3.4 The Group feels strongly that the draft Bill for England and Wales is not an appropriate model for a number of reasons:

  • the proposed Home Office offence is based on the English offence of manslaughter by gross negligence which applies where a duty of care is owed at common law. This is materially different from the common law offence of culpable homicide in Scotland. While it might be possible to import the concept of a 'duty of care' into Scots criminal law this would not be as straightforward as it would be in England
  • the proposed offence relies on the way in which "the organisation's activities are managed or organised by its senior managers" (emphasis added). The Group considers that the use of "senior managers" could perpetuate the identification problem inherent in the current law since it could be argued that in order for an organisation to be considered responsible it would still be necessary to identify an individual or individuals who were the "controlling mind" of the organisation. In addition the focus on "senior managers" could encourage organisations to avoid potential responsibilities by transferring management decisions to those at a lower level in the corporate structure who would fall outwith the statutory definition
  • whether senior managers sought to cause the organisation to profit from that failure should not be relevant to whether an offence had been committed, although it could be reasonably taken into consideration at the sentencing stage
  • a majority considers that a secondary offence covering individual directors/managers should be included
  • any offence should apply equally to public and private sector bodies: there should be a more extensive removal of Crown immunity
  • a range of penalties other than fines and remedial orders should be available.
4. Purpose

4.1 The Group has identified a number of drivers for legislative change, which include:

  • to contribute to improved safety by helping to encourage companies and their employees to take active steps to manage and reduce the risks to the public and staff arising from their activities and to deter them from reckless behaviour
  • to achieve the interests of justice and to respond to the desire of victim's families and of the public for improved social justice, including a greater degree of condemnation in respect of such offences
  • to ensure that organisations can be prosecuted for causing death
  • to provide appropriate means of punishment by providing a wider range of penalties.
5. Mode of change

5.1 The Group has identified three main routes for delivering the change to the law required to achieve the aims set out in the preceding section:

  1. introduce legislation which would amend the existing common law offence of culpable homicide to ensure that criminal liability can be effectively attributed to organisations

    This would involve altering the application of the current offence of culpable homicide so as to make it possible to aggregate the collective knowledge of various individual minds at various times and places and that collective knowledge (or guilty mind) would be attributed to the organisation. This would tackle the specific issue raised in the Transco judgement.
  2. introduce a new statutory offence of corporate liability for causing death/serious injury

    This would involve the creation of a new stand-alone offence specifically designed to tackle instances where organisations are criminally responsible for the death of a worker or a member of the public.
  3. change Health & Safety legislation

    This would involve amending the statutory provisions under the Health and Safety at Work Act to create an offence of causing death of a worker or a member of the public by dangerous conduct.


5.2 The Group considers that the first option, while addressing the particular problem of aggregation raised in the Transco trial, would potentially retain the need to identify individuals and to establish their intentions in order to aggregate and attribute the mental element to the organisation, with its concomitant difficulties of investigation and proof. The Group considers that proof of mens rea - which involves a subjective test - should not be a component of the offence. Rather we consider that there should be an objective test of "recklessness" such as that proposed in "A Draft Criminal Code For Scotland with Commentary" 6, based on whether 'the person knew or ought to have known' of the risk arising from their actions. This is discussed in more detail later in the report. Moreover, by continuing to base the offence on the common law, an opportunity would be missed to set out on the face of statute a clear and unambiguous offence. That, of course, is the key advantage of the second option - to replace the common law with a statutory offence for all organisations- which is the Group's preferred way forward. The components of that offence are discussed in detail in the following sections.

5.3 Transco received a record fine and significant public opprobrium following their conviction on health and safety offences. As a result a number of commentators have questioned the need for a change to the law in relation to culpable homicide. However, most members of the Group consider that health and safety offences - even those which result in death - are seen by the public as being of lesser severity than offences prosecuted under the common law of culpable homicide. Lord Osborne, in his Opinion on the Transco Appeal also acknowledged that there was particular opprobrium associated with a culpable homicide conviction which was not associated with a conviction under the Health and Safety at Work Act 7. Most members therefore consider that amending health and safety legislation would not in itself meet the public demand for justice in relation to such incidents. Nor did most members consider that changes to health and safety legislation alone would provide as strong an incentive for organisations to take health and safety seriously compared to the threat of prosecution for an offence of corporate killing combined with a broader range of penalties. Nevertheless, introducing a new statutory offence would not rule out some further tightening of health and safety legislation. The Group considers that reform of the criminal law and reform of health and safety legislation in this area are not necessarily mutually exclusive and that there might be advantage in a combined approach.

5.4 One method of achieving this, proposed by the Centre for Corporate Accountability, would be by explicitly providing in the new statutory offence that management failure would include gross breaches of specified statutory duties, in particular those under sections 2 to 6 of the Health and Safety at Work Act. Sections 2-6 impose duties on employers, suppliers and those in control of premises to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure the safety of their employees and others affected by their activities. Linking these duties into a corporate killing offence would provide greater clarity to organisations regarding their responsibilities in this area and could provide greater certainty in the application of the law.

6. The way forward

6.1 The following sections contain a detailed discussion of the way in which we consider the new offence should be structured. In order to assist consideration it might be helpful to set out our overall approach at this stage. The starting point is where there has been the death of an employee or of a member of the public and that death has been caused by recklessness as defined by the Draft Code (see 7.3) on the part of a person or persons within the organisation. The acts of individuals should be capable of aggregation in order to establish the physical elements of the offence. The offence would be attributed to the organisation on the basis of vicarious liability of the organisation for those physical acts. Having established the vicarious liability of an organisation for the reckless acts or omissions of its employees, it would then be necessary for the prosecution to establish an element of corporate fault before the organisation can be convicted of the proposed new offence. That corporate fault would be based on evidence of failures in the organisation's management systems or corporate culture that led to the death. At the same time individual directors and senior managers should be individually liable to prosecution where there is clear evidence that they have a direct responsibility for the death.

6.2 The whole thrust of our proposals is to move away from the identification principle and the need to attribute mens rea to a controlling mind within the organisation. Instead the proposed offence would allow aggregation in establishing the commission of a blameworthy criminal act, and in attributing those acts to an organisation it would focus very clearly on whether or not proper and comprehensive management and health and safety systems were in place and, most importantly, were enforced throughout the workplace.

7. Substantive offence

'Negligence', 'gross negligence' and 'recklessness'

7.1 Corporate homicide falls within the category of culpable homicide which is sometimes referred to as 'involuntary lawful act culpable homicide', that is it is unintentional and can arise from a lawful activity such as the running of a business. (An activity is considered 'lawful' even if the way in which it is being undertaken at the time can give rise to a statutory offence, for example under Health and Safety legislation.) In relation to the common law offence of culpable homicide it is necessary to prove that a person was guilty of 'recklessness' or 'gross negligence' 'Gross negligence' has been defined as "criminal indifference to consequences" 8. The Transco judgement confirmed that in this context 'gross negligence' and 'recklessness' are now essentially interchangeable terms and that both amount to "criminal indifference to consequences". The court in Transco did not find the use of the term "negligence" - which is essentially an English civil law concept - to be helpful.


7.2 The Group discussed whether the proposed new offence should continue to be based on these existing common law concepts. We consider that it would be preferable to specify in statute the tests and standards which a judge or jury would be required to apply. This would provide greater clarity both to organisations and to juries.

7.3 One model which we consider promising is that identified in "A Draft Criminal Code for Scotland" which defines "recklessness" for the purposes of criminal liability as follows:

"a) something is caused recklessly if the person causing the result is, or ought to be, aware of an obvious and serious risk that acting will bring about the result but nonetheless acts where no reasonable person would do so;

b) a person is reckless as to a circumstance, or as to a possible result of an act, if the person is, or ought to be, aware of an obvious and serious risk that the circumstance exists, or that the result will follow, but nonetheless acts where no reasonable person would do so;

c) a person acts recklessly if the person is, or ought to be, aware of an obvious and serious risk of dangers or of possible harmful results in so acting but nonetheless acts where no reasonable person would do so." 9

The Commentary further explains that recklessness embraces both the "deliberate risk-taker, the person who knows that his or her conduct presents certain risks, or is aware that certain circumstances may be present. But it also embraces the person who is not aware of the risks, but who judged by certain objective standards, ought to be aware". This is important. "Ought to be" brings in an objective standard. The court will not need to establish that the state of mind of a person was wilfully reckless or negligent but only that the person should have realised that their conduct would give rise to risks that were "obvious and serious".

7.4 The Group considers that "recklessness", along the lines set out in the Draft Code, should be a key component of the proposed new offence.

8. Duty of care

8.1 For the sake of completeness the Group also considered the concept of a 'duty of care' which forms part of the common law offence of gross negligence manslaughter in England and Wales, The draft Bill proposals for England and Wales incorporate this concept. The concept of 'duty of care' is not currently part of the Scots law of culpable homicide or of the criminal law more generally in Scotland. However, it does exist in civil law where it is considered to be the duty to avoid doing or omitting to do something which may have as its reasonable and probable consequence injury to others. The duty is owed to those to whom injury may reasonably and probably be anticipated if the duty is not observed.


8.2 The Group feel strongly that, as far as Scotland is concerned there are no particular advantages to importing the concept of 'duty of care' into a criminal offence of corporate homicide. We also have some general concerns about adopting wholly civil concepts into criminal law, which could have unintended consequences.

9. Method of attributing liability

9.1 As discussed above, the main problem with the common law on culpable homicide in relation to organisations is the means of attributing liability for the offence to the organisation which in turn is caused by the inherent difficulties in ascribing mens rea to an organisation. As highlighted by the Transco case, in practice the existing law requires the identification of a controlling and guilty mind which embodies the company as a prerequisite for a prosecution against their organisation. This section considers alternative models of attributing liability in order to overcome this problem.

Strict liability

9.2 There are a large number of statutory offences involving strict liability. Historically, they have tended to apply to fairly minor offences, such as breaching the requirements of a licence. However, strict liability offences have increasingly been used to deal with more serious criminal acts. The wording of individual statutes that impose strict liability varies but in every case, the statute will set out the physical act which, if done, leads to criminal liability. So the idea of a strict liability offence which focuses simply on the fact that a death has occurred in the workplace would be unprecedented insofar as there is no obviously identifiable blameworthy physical act or omission. The death could be due to a heart attack and, as such, could be something over which an employer and/or employees have no control whatsoever.

9.3 The Group considered the offence of causing death by dangerous driving set out in section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (as amended) as a possible model for liability where proof of mens rea is not required. It is again clear that the offence focuses on the blameworthy actions of the individual who is thought to have caused the death.

"1. A person who causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence."

Section 2A goes on to flesh out the meaning of dangerous:

"2A (1) For the purposes of sections 1 and 2 above a person is to be regarded as driving dangerously if (and, subject to subsection (2) below, only if)-

(a) the way he drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and
(b) it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous."

9.4 The case law on this offence has made it clear that, unlike culpable homicide, the offence does not necessarily involve an inquiry into the state of mind of the person who has caused death. But the physical act involves driving which, viewed by the objective person, is dangerous and falls far below what would be expected.

9.5 In the context of corporate killing, the physical act of causing death must involve wrongdoing on the part of some person or persons. The Group wishes to move away from the difficulties surrounding mens rea which are involved in a subjective viewing of wrongdoing to an approach where the physical acts, viewed objectively, can lead to a prima facie charge of corporate killing.

9.6 From this perspective, the dangerous driving example can point to the type of physical acts that could be taken into account - engaging in some form of activity dangerously or recklessly, in a way that falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful person who is engaging in that activity, and in a way that would be obvious to a competent and careful person that the activity was dangerous or reckless.

9.7 However, the example of causing death by dangerous driving - an example of an offence that does not involve mens rea - only takes us so far. It does not assist with the problems of identification that arise in the organisational context. The identity of the driver of a motor vehicle will normally be obvious. In an organisational context, how can liability be attributed to the organisation rather than an individual?

Vicarious liability/Agency

9.8 One way of dealing with the identification problem is to adopt the concept of vicarious liability or agency. Vicarious liability or agency involves the imputation of liability on one person for the wrongful acts or omissions of another person. The person to whom liability is imputed must of course be connected to the other, such as an employer and employee relationship. So in the context of corporate killing, the organisation would be vicariously liable for the blameworthy acts or omissions of its employees, or agents, provided these actions are within the scope of their actual or implied employment or authority. But standing alone, vicarious liability has limitations, particularly in circumstances in which no single employee or other agent can be identified as responsible for the death. For example, scaffolding erected by a company's employees collapses causing death, or a fatal train crash is caused by the condition of the tracks. In these cases, there may be no one individual employee or clear group of employees for whom the employer can assume vicarious liability. However, if the acts and omissions of a range of employees and agents can be aggregated and attributed to the employer then that would deal with a wider range of situations.


9.9 In terms of the new offence, we consider that an organisation should be vicariously liable for the wrongful acts, both of omission and commission, of any agent of the organisation - such as an employee, officer or director - acting within the actual or apparent scope of their employment or authority. Where appropriate, the acts or omissions of a number of different individual employees or agents, over time where relevant, should be capable of being aggregated to establish the physical element of the offence.


9.10 The Group considers that the substantive offence should be causing death by the recklessness conduct of an employee or employees of an organisation, these physical acts being established where necessary by aggregation of a number of employees over a period of time. We consider that the approach taken under the Australian Criminal Code Act 1995 which makes employers liable for the "physical element of an offence [if it] is committed by an employee, agent or officer of a body corporate acting within the actual or apparent scope of his or her employment, or within his or her actual or apparent authority" 10, could be an appropriate model. However, having established the vicarious liability of an organisation for the reckless acts or omissions of its employees, it is necessary to be able to establish an element of corporate fault before the organisation can be deemed liable for the proposed new offence. The Home Office approach is that the organisation breached the duty of care it owed its employees or members of the public. We prefer an approach which is based on management failure.

10. Management Failure

10.1 The purpose of focusing on whether management systems are in place, on the prevailing culture within an organisation and on the extent to which health and safety obligations were complied with in theory and in practice, is to establish that the reckless acts or omissions of different individuals and groups over a period of time within the organisation should be imputed to the organisation itself. In other words, to establish that there was corporate fault. This approach seeks to move away from the notion of liability arising from the intent of individual senior managers - or any group of individuals - towards an approach which focuses on the organisation's effectiveness in managing its activities and operations. Rather than seeking to identify a controlling mind with all the current difficulties associated with the identification principle and proving mens rea, the focus would be on the 'how' of an organisation's management rather than the 'who'.

10.2 The Law Commission for England and Wales in their review of corporate manslaughter law 11recommended a management failure approach whereby a corporation would be liable for a death where "it is caused by a failure, in the way the corporation's activities are managed or organised, to ensure the health and safety of persons employed in or affected by those activities". 12 The Commission considered that a failure could involve a failure to ensure a safe system of work, or a failure to provide safe premises or equipment, or competent staff. 13 This could also be linked into the statutory duties set out in sections 2-6 of the Health and Safety at Work Act (see para 5.4 above).

10.3 In the context of a criminal trial, how could it be established that there was a management failure within an organisation? One approach would be to require the prosecution to demonstrate - as an essential component of the offence - that there was a failure to ensure that adequate policies, systems and practices were in place and were communicated to relevant persons. The organisation would, of course, have the opportunity to lead evidence that it did have appropriate systems in place.

10.4 Alternatively a new statutory offence could provide that once the Crown has established that the physical element of an offence had been committed by a person or persons for whom the organisation is vicariously liable, the organisation must argue that it had acted with 'due diligence'. This might involve them showing that they had all reasonable policies, systems and procedures in place - perhaps including an actively enforced corporate compliance programme - which should have prevented the offence from happening.

10.5 An approach along these lines could simply impose an 'evidential burden' on the organisation. That is, the organisation would be expected to raise issues in support of the proposition that they had acted with due diligence. This would not reverse the legal burden of proof as the burden of proving a lack of due diligence - together with all other aspects of the offence - would remain with the Crown.

10.6 Alternatively, the provision could be drafted so as to reverse the burden of proof and require the employer to prove on the balance of probabilities that they had acted with due diligence. Members noted that under s 40 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 it is for the accused to prove that it was not reasonably practicable for them to do more than was in fact done to satisfy particular requirements of the Act. The Group recognises that there are potential human rights issues associated with reverse burdens of proof which would have to be considered carefully. However, if these could be overcome, a due diligence defence with a reverse burden of proof - which clearly places the onus on the organisation to prove that it had acted with due diligence - would be our preferred approach.

'Corporate Culture'

10.7 One aspect of 'management failure' - though not the only one - would be allowing a 'corporate culture' to exist which encourages or tolerates behaviour which results in a death, or in failing to promote a corporate culture which mitigates against such behaviour. One definition of 'corporate culture', adopted in the Australian Criminal Code Act 1995, is "an attitude, policy, rule, course of conduct or practice existing within the body corporate generally or in the part of the body corporate in which the relevant activities takes place." 14 Thus for an organisation to have a written set of policies and regulations would not be sufficient in itself; the culture of the organisation would have to be such that a proper emphasis was put on informing employees and contractors of the rules and ensuring their implementation and enforcement. If the organisation either allowed a corporate culture to exist which directly encouraged, tolerated or led to practices which resulted in a death - or if it failed to take all reasonable steps to prevent such a culture existing - it would be liable.

11. The proposed new offence - Summary

11.1 The Group concludes that -

  • the physical element of the offence should be one of an employee or agent of the organisation causing death through recklessness, along the lines set out in "A Draft Criminal Code"
  • organisations should be vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of their employees, agents and contractors provided these actions are within the scope of their actual or implied employment or authority
  • in establishing an organisation's liability, the acts or omissions of a number of employees or groups of employees should be able to be aggregated
  • an organisation should be liable where it fails to put policies, practices and systems in place to ensure the health and safety of its employees and those affected by its activities. This may include allowing, or failing to take all reasonable steps to prevent a corporate culture to exist which encourages, tolerates or leads to an offence taking place.
  • a due diligence defence would be available to an organisation if they could demonstrate that they had all reasonable policies, systems and procedures in place, which should have prevented the offence taking place.
12. Individual Liability

12.1 At present any individual can be prosecuted for the common law offence of culpable homicide, including directors/managers of organisations. However, in practice prosecutions against directors or managers are rare. Individuals can also be prosecuted under section 37 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, but again there have been few prosecutions. The Group notes that there is significant public dissatisfaction in Scotland with the lack of prosecutions against individuals. Furthermore there is a strong groundswell of public and stakeholder opinion in favour of a new offence specifically for individual directors/managers whose actions or omissions were a significant factor in the death of an employee or member of the public. This is reflected in the submissions received by the Group. Such individual liability could be established either through a stand alone offence, or through a secondary offence, or both.

Stand alone offence

12.2 As indicated a stand alone offence already exists by way of the common law of culpable homicide. In the case of a death arising from an individual's work activities the person could be individually liable, regardless of whether the organisation by which they are employed, or on whose behalf they were acting, was successfully prosecuted. The common law offence, which will of course remain, extends to any individual who is responsible for a death and is not restricted to directors or senior managers. As discussed in paragraph 7.1 above, in relation to the common law offence of culpable homicide it is necessary to prove "criminal indifference" to consequences. An alternative would be to create a new offence of corporate homicide applying to individuals for deaths arising specifically from individuals' workplace activities, with a lower threshold of liability than the common law offence, for example, 'recklessness' as defined in the Draft Code (see para 7.3 above).


12.3 The Group feels strongly that any individual who is responsible for a death in the workplace should be liable to prosecution regardless of their position within the organisational hierarchy. However, we are divided on whether a new stand alone offence for individuals is necessary. A majority favour a new offence which mirrors the standard of 'recklessness' which we are proposing for the corporate offence. A stand alone offence would cover offences which would fall short of culpable homicide, but which many of us consider should be prosecutable. We believe this would assist in ensuring the successful prosecution of individuals who are directly responsible for causing death and that it would help to overcome the apparent limitations of culpable homicide prosecutions. Others of us feel that it would be wrong in principle to have a lower legal threshold simply because the death occurred in a work-related situation and moreover that any new statutory offence would not have the same public opprobrium as culpable homicide. We are all agreed that the charge of culpable homicide should be more vigorously pursued in appropriate cases and that it would be preferable to prosecute individuals for culpable homicide, rather than a new stand alone offence, where possible.

Art & part/Secondary offence

12.4 Under section 293 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 it is possible that, unless the provision stated otherwise, the proposed new offence for organisations would allow an individual - including a director or a senior manager - to be prosecuted on an 'art and part' 15 basis. Section 293 provides that;

"(1) A person may be convicted of, and punished for, a contravention of any enactment, notwithstanding that he was guilty of such contravention as art and part only.

(2) Without prejudice to subsection (1) above or to any express provision in any enactment having the like effect to this subsection, any person who aids, abets, counsels, procures or incites any other person to commit an offence against the provisions of any enactment shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction, unless the enactment otherwise requires, to the same punishment as might be imposed on conviction of the first-mentioned offence."

Liability would be attributed in relation to the principal offence, not as a secondary offence.

12.5 A specific secondary offence, however, could be introduced which would apply where an organisation has been successfully convicted of the proposed new offence and the prosecution could also prove that an individual director/senior officer's actions were a significant contributory factor to the death of the employee or member of the public.


12.6 The Group noted that under section 293 directors and senior managers could potentially be convicted on an 'art and part' basis in relation to the principal offence and agreed that this option should be retained. Nevertheless most of the Group consider that a specific secondary offence for directors/senior managers is desirable where their actions or omissions clearly and directly contributed to the death. The Group believes that liability for this offence should be limited to those directors/senior managers with responsibility to ensure appropriate systems are in place and functioning properly. It should not apply below this level. A majority of us considers that the creation of such a secondary offence would help focus the minds of directors and senior managers on health and safety issues.


12.7 The Group is agreed that individuals, at any level in an organisation, should face criminal charges if they can be shown to be responsible for a death. The Group considers that the most effective way of achieving this is through a combination of both an individual offence and a secondary offence. This would mirror existing Health and Safety legislation which includes both a stand alone offence, applicable to any employee, under section 7, and a secondary offence under section 37 where a "director, manager, secretary or other similar officer" has contributed to a corporate offence. The individual offence would apply to any person who causes a death through their work, without requiring that the organisation which employs them is also guilty of corporate killing. The majority of the Group considers that the most effective way of achieving this is through a new stand alone offence for individuals, based on the Draft Code standard of 'recklessness'. A charge of culpable homicide could continue to be brought in appropriate cases. The Group agrees that a new secondary offence would be desirable to allow the prosecution of an individual director/senior manager (following successful prosecution of the organisation), where his or her acts or omissions directly contributed to the death.

12.8 The business representatives amongst us feel that a possible consequence of providing additional offences for individuals (beyond culpable homicide) is that it could inhibit people taking up senior posts or indeed new investment in Scottish industry if Scots law in relation to individual directors/senior officers were significantly more stringent than in other jurisdictions, including the rest of the UK. They feel that a balance has to be struck between protecting the health and safety of workers and the public and ensuring that the responsibilities did not act as a disincentive to organisations and talented directors/managers locating and working in Scotland. The HSE representative considers that most failings leading to death are organisational, not individual and therefore that there is a danger that an individual offence could lead to scapegoating of individuals within organisations. However, most members consider that clearly establishing individual liability would encourage directors and managers to take health and safety more seriously and therefore promote good management. They believe that good managers would not be deterred by health and safety requirements.

13. Scope and Jurisdiction

13.1 The Group considered the scope and jurisdiction of any offence in the following respects:

Fatal Serious Injury/Occupational Illness

13.2 The Group were clear that the new offence would cover any death caused by recklessness, whether that death results from an immediate injury or whether it is the outcome of a long-term industrial illness. This reflects the present legal position.

Non-Fatal Serious Injury/Occupational Illness

13.3 The Group discussed whether the proposed new offence should be extended to include serious injury and occupational ill-health which may be severely debilitating but which does not result in death. The Group notes that the draft Bill for England and Wales does not include this type of injury or illness.


13.4 The Group is heavily divided on whether the offence should be extended to incidents causing serious injury or long-term ill-health which is non-fatal. Some members feel strongly that in practice the severity of the outcome of any incident could simply be a matter of chance and that if an organisation's reckless actions lead to serious injury or occupational illness then they should be punished. Other members consider extending the offence in this way could lead to dilution of the corporate killing offence and could potentially over-stretch investigative and enforcement resources. However we are agreed that this is a complex issue with possible implications for health and safety legislation and that further consideration should be given to it.

Unincorporated bodies

13.5 The Group considered whether the scope of any new offence should also include unincorporated bodies such as business partnerships, schools and clubs. This is particularly important given the level of sub-contracting involved in certain sectors, such as the construction industry, where many work-related deaths take place.


13.6 A majority of the Group recognises that there may be some practical difficulties in applying an offence to unincorporated bodies due to their lack of legal personality and the appropriateness of prosecuting a body with no separate status and with a potentially changing membership for an offence that seeks to identify failings within the organisation that can be considered as failings of the body itself. However, these are not insuperable. Indeed the HSE representative indicated that they have not experienced problems in relation to unincorporated bodies, which are covered by health and safety legislation. Many unincorporated bodies are in practice indistinguishable from other organisations and their liability for fatal incidents should be the same.


13.7 Under the Home Office proposals the offence will apply if the death occurs in England and Wales even if the organisation is based abroad, but will not apply if the organisation is based in England and Wales but the death occurs abroad. In other words, the scope of the draft Bill for England and Wales does not apply the new offence of corporate manslaughter to UK companies that cause death abroad, as the Government considers there would be practical difficulties in doing so.


13.8 The Group notes that the extraterritoriality of criminal law is evolving and that in relation to individuals culpable homicide already applies to offences committed abroad 16. It is also understood that the Scotland Act 1998 does not exclude the possibility of creating extra-territorial offences and a number have been created under Acts of the Scottish Parliament. A majority considers that it is important for the proposed new offence to apply to situations where the management failure took place in Scotland but the death took place abroad, otherwise organisations could evade responsibility for deaths of their overseas workers. Some members consider it is inappropriate to apply UK health and safety standards to operations in other countries with different standards 17. A number think that the practical difficulties in investigating offences committed overseas by Scottish-based organisations would be almost insurmountable. However, most members feel that the practical problems can be exaggerated and should not mean that deaths occurring overseas are excluded from the scope of the law. Moreover organisations should apply the same standards to their operations whether in Scotland or in other countries. On balance, therefore, the Group considers that the offence should cover both foreign organisations operating in Scotland and Scottish companies operating overseas.

14. Crown Immunity

14.1 The current common law on culpable homicide in Scotland already applies to a wide range of public bodies such as local authorities, health boards and non-departmental public bodies as well as private organisations. However, Crown bodies such as Government Departments and a number of Government agencies are currently exempt from prosecution.

14.2 Under the Home Office proposals, there will be no general Crown Immunity from prosecution for the new offence. Where a Crown body such as a Government Department owes a duty of care as an employer or occupier of land, or where it is supplying goods or services, or engaged in other commercial activities (for example mining or fishing), it should be subject to the law of corporate homicide. However, the Home Office draft Bill specifically exempts certain functions that might be regarded as core public functions. These are activities performed by the Government under the prerogative or those that are a type of activity (whether performed by a private or public sector body) that requires a statutory or prerogative basis. The Home Office proposals consider that organisational failings in these areas are more appropriately matters for wider forms of public and democratic accountability such as public inquiries, Parliamentary scrutiny, judicial review etc.


14.3 The Group considers that the removal of Crown Immunity should be more extensive than the Home Office proposal not least because the term 'exclusively public function' could be interpreted very widely. We believe that when a death is caused by the recklessness of agents of a public authority then the authority should assume vicarious liability for that death. The prosecution would then be required to establish that there was management failure within the public authority. The Group appreciates that public policy decision making raises sensitive questions but as long as public bodies have systems in place to ensure that decision-makers take into account relevant factors and these systems are followed, then there would be no prosecution.

15. Penalties

15.1 The current penalty for organisations convicted of culpable homicide is an unlimited fine, the same penalty available under health and safety legislation. The sentence handed down to Transco - a fine of £15 million - shows that Scottish courts are prepared to issue heavy fines to those found guilty of serious health and safety breaches. However, in passing sentence, Lord Carloway noted that the only disposal available to him was that of a fine. The Group considers that there is a strong need for a wider range of penalties than simply fines, both in order to punish offending organisations more appropriately and to reduce the likelihood of further offences being committed. Most of the evidence received by the Group was also strongly in favour of a wider range of penalties.

15.2 The Group considered a wide variety of alternative penalties for organisations convicted of the new offence, including:

  • fines based on turnover or profit, or equity fines which reduce the value of shares in the company (thus preventing the costs of large fines being passed on to workers, consumers etc)
  • disqualification of the organisation from activities associated with the offending
  • corporate probation, involving implementing changes within the organisation to prevent re-offending
  • community service orders, requiring the organisation to undertake projects which benefit the community
  • adverse publicity orders involving publication of the offender's conviction
  • appointment of an independent H&S administrator until improvements implemented
  • requiring directors to attend court during sentencing
  • notifying convictions to the Registrar of Companies

These options are considered in further detail in a paper by Professor Hazel Croall attached at Annex B.

15.3 The Group also considered possible penalties for individuals convicted of an individual offence, such as disqualification and imprisonment.


15.4 The Group believes that there is considerable scope to broaden the range of available penalties for organisations beyond simple fines and considers that this would respond to public demand for social and restorative justice. We are particularly drawn to community service and corporate probation orders as possible sanctions as both contain an element of social justice. Corporate probation could also involve organisations taking steps which might help to prevent possible future incidents. Any fines which are imposed should be profit-based and consideration should be given to using the confiscation powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in appropriate cases. Non-financial penalties will be particularly appropriate for public sector or not-for-profit organisations.

15.5 We consider that providing a suite of possible penalties would provide the courts with the flexibility to respond to the many and various circumstances of the cases which may come before them. Penalties could be based on consideration of the seriousness of the offence, including the number of people affected and the severity of the recklessness involved. The nature and record of the organisation involved, such as whether they are profit-making and whether it was a first offence, could also be taken into account. In order to enable the court to determine which penalty, or combination of penalties, would be appropriate in each individual case a background report should be provided detailing any previous convictions of the organisation or its senior staff, the organisation's health and safety record and outlining its financial position. The Group considers this report should be prepared at the organisation's own expense.

15.6 The Group also agrees that a range of penalties should be available for individuals convicted for contributing to a death through their workplace actions/omissions, including disqualification and imprisonment.

16. Investigation & prosecution

16.1 The Group considers the creation of a new offence of corporate killing to be the most effective means to address the problems inherent in the current law of culpable homicide as it applies to organisations. However we also recognise that the creation of a new offence will not in and of itself be sufficient. In order for any legislative change to be effective it will also be necessary to ensure that sufficient resources are made available to enable the appropriate authorities to vigorously investigate and prosecute what are often highly technical and complex cases. The forthcoming protocol on work-related deaths in Scotland should help to facilitate closer coordination and liaison between the HSE, the police and the Procurator Fiscal's office in investigating and prosecuting such incidents. At the same time the Health and Safety Executive must also continue to be properly resourced in order to carry out its important prevention work with organisations, to avoid deaths occurring in the first place.

17. Conclusion

17.1 The Group considers that a new statutory offence of corporate killing should be introduced for organisations guilty of recklessness which results in the death of employees or members of the public. While there would be advantages in a uniform approach across the UK, most members do not consider this an overriding factor. What is important is to get the law right for Scotland. We hope, however, that other UK jurisdictions will consider the content of these proposals.

17.2 The Group recommends an offence which makes organisations responsible for actions or omissions by their agents which result in death. An organisation should be liable where it fails to put policies, practices and systems in place to ensure the health and safety of its employees and those affected by its activities. This may include allowing, or failing to take all reasonable steps to prevent a corporate culture to exist which encourages, tolerates or leads to an offence taking place.

17.3 Organisations would have a due diligence defence if they could show that they had policies and procedures in place which should have prevented such an incident taking place and that they ensured a corporate culture which reinforced these policies and procedures.

17.4 A majority of us considers that a new stand alone offence is desirable to deal with individuals who are directly responsible for the death of employees or members of the public. However, we agree that where possible prosecutions on the common law offence of culpable homicide should be sought in preference to prosecutions on any new stand alone offence. A majority of us considers that there should be a secondary offence for individual directors/senior managers whose actions/omissions significantly contributed to death(s).

17.5 We agree that the offence should cover unincorporated bodies and should extend - as far as practicably possible - to all Crown bodies.

17.6 A majority of the Group considers that the legislation should apply equally to deaths in Scotland caused by organisations based outside Scotland, and to deaths caused outside Scotland by organisations based within Scotland.

17.7 We believe that further consideration needs to be given as to whether the scope of the offence should be limited to death or should be extended to cover serious injury and occupational illness.

17.8 The Group believes a wide range of penalties should be available to the Court to enable sentences for organisations to reflect appropriately the specific circumstances of each case, including corporate probation, equity fines and community orders. We also consider that penalties for individuals should include disqualification and imprisonment.

17.9 The Group stresses that adequate resources need to be made available to ensure full investigation and enforcement of any new legislation. This should not be at the detriment of existing HSE, police and local authority resources devoted to preventative work.

17.10 We consider it essential that government monitors the practical impact of any legislative changes to ensure that they have the intended result.