The first charge of corporate manslaughter under the new Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 was recently laid against Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings Ltd, concerning the death of a junior employee who died while gathering soil samples in a trench that collapsed. Under the previous law, a company’s guilt was linked to the gross negligence of an individual who was said to be the embodiment of the company. As a result, prosecutions were only successful against small companies where there was a sole director, so that it could be said that the company and the director were one and the same. The new Act focuses instead on the way in which a company’s activities are managed or organised by senior management and is not reliant on one individual being found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter. Senior management is defined in the Act as those persons who play a significant role in the decision-making process about how the company’s activities are managed and organised, although there has been a great deal of debate about what constitutes ‘senior management’ and the answer will undoubtedly depend on the actual corporate structure under examination.
Whilst the outcome of the trial in this first case to be prosecuted under the 2007 Act will be interesting, it will probably not be of widespread significance because of the fact that Cotswold is a small company with one sole director - the very factual scenario that could have led to a successful prosecution under the old law.