The Scottish Executive should seize the chance to introduce a straight forward crime of Industrial Homicide to ensure companies are brought to account when fatal accidents happen.
That was the appeal made today (Monday April 18) by Frank Maguire, one of the country’s leading personal injury lawyers, speaking at the Scottish TUC conference in Dundee.
Mr Maguire, a solicitor advocate with Thompsons Solicitors, called on Justice Minister, Cathy Jamieson to ignore what he described as the ”recipe for further confusion” contained in the Corporate Manslaughter Bill currently out for consultation in England and concentrate instead on bringing companies to account for their actions.
He was addressing a fringe meeting entitled “Corporate Killing and Directors’ Responsibilities” organised by the Scottish Hazards Campaign and the Transport Workers’ Union.
Mr Maguire said the English Bill had a lot of good parts but was ill thought out and half baked when it came to trying to identify the responsible directors or senior managers of a company to be prosecuted.
He gave as an example a scaffolding firm with five owner/directors and a similar firm with five managers that was a subsidiary of a bigger organisation. If the scaffolding fell and workers were killed the directors of the first company were clearly the senior managers and so the company could be taken to court but the second firm would not be as it could be argued those in charge of scaffolding were not the senior directors with total responsibility for the actions of the company.
Mr Maguire said:” If the prosecution have to get into how a company is run, who the managers are, who the senior managers are, what the role of each is then you can envisage a scenario where senior managers will blame middle managers and the end result will be like wading through judicial treacle.
“The Scottish Executive is going to put their Bill out to consultation in the summer. They have a golden opportunity to devise some very straight forward legislation. They should resist the temptation to just look to the English model and also study what happens elsewhere in the world.
“In Australia their Industrial Manslaughter legislation simply sets out to discover if the company is guilty or not, it does not dwell on who within a firm is responsible.
Mr Maguire said it should be made be far simpler for the prosecution to prove if conduct by a company made them guilty of industrial homicide rather than trying to prove which individuals within a firm had been reckless or negligent.
As the law stood it was easier to prosecute small companies with simple management structures rather than much bigger national or multinational organisations with many layers of management.
He highlighted Scotland’s poor industrial accident record as the incentive for change. Last year there were 61 Scots killed in workplace accidents and almost 6000 injured yet only one company director was convicted of a crime and his punishment was a fine.
The Scottish Executive is expected to put their Bill out to consultation in June. They’re understood to have ruled out using a Sewel Motion which would mean using the Westminster legislation in favour of introducing their own measures which may go further than England and Wales.