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PRESS INFORMATION - press enquiries to Sam Dabbs on 07711 672893

DWF657/07
26 July 2007

Company directors will face greater responsibility for health and safety than ever when the new offence of corporate manslaughter is expected to be introduced on 6 April next year, says law firm DWF.

The news comes as pressure mounts for more prosecutions of directors under the existing health and safety rules are likely to be stepped up.

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act has finally made it through Parliament after it was almost scuppered by a row over whether deaths in custody should be included. It is now awaiting Royal Assent before its introduction next year.

Steffan Groch, health and safety partner with DWF, welcomes the new law in principle. He believes fear of prosecution will act as a driver to ensure good health and safety practice throughout the UK, and it will mean a fairer system.

He says: “The current system is unfair as it has proved easier to convict smaller companies and their senior staff for manslaughter because lines of control are short and directors more or less have first-hand responsibility. With larger companies, such prosecutions have faltered because responsibilities can be spread over several layers of management, making it difficult to prove that particular individuals were responsible for a death.

“Under the new law successful prosecutions will still require evidence of senior management failure, but it is the company that will be liable, rather than individual directors - although Individuals may still be charged with the existing offence of manslaughter.”

However he stresses: “There needs to be a balance between regulators punishing companies for gross neglect or incompetence and taking positive action to help them manage their risks and prevent injuries and deaths.

“While the government has said the offence will be reserved for the very worst cases we are concerned that investigations following fatal accidents will inevitably be far wider than before, with directors and senior managers being caught up in the spotlight.

“The new offence will lead to the behaviour of management coming under much greater scrutiny than before. On top of this, changes to the Health & Safety Executive's enforcement policy have made it clear that it will consider prosecuting directors for health and safety breaches, while new guidance prepared jointly by the Institute of Directors and the HSE will also lead to more prosecutions against directors.”

ENDS

Notes to editors:

DWF is one of the fastest growing regional law firms in the UK and has recently merged with Ricksons. With over 820 people based in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Preston, DWF provides a range of services grouped under the following practice areas:

Corporate
Banking & Finance
Business Recovery
Litigation
Real Estate
People
Insurance
Private Client

DWF has developed extensive sector-specific expertise in a number of areas including: automotive, education, food and resourcing. Further information on DWF is available via www.dwf.co.uk

Media enquiries to:

Sam Dabbs
Dabbs PR & Marketing
T: 01939 210503 or 07711 672893
E: sam@dabbsprm.com

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