Supplementary memorandum submitted by
The Public Accounts Committee asked HM Treasury
for a note on the Government's policy towards the Crown's immunity
from prosecution in the context of the tragic fatality at the
Royal Mint (on which the Mint have submitted a separate note).
What is "Crown immunity"?
Crown immunity means that emanations of the
Crown are not susceptible to prosecution for offences either created
by statute or of the common law. It is more difficult to define
precisely what is meant by an "emanation of the Crown",
but it is clear that ministers and their departments are included.
Crown immunity is today primarily an issue of the criminal law.
The Crown Proceedings Act 1947 substantially reduced the Crown's
immunity from civil proceedings.
It is important to be clear about what Crown
immunity does not protect the executive from. It does not afford
any protection from investigation, for example by the Health and
Safety Executive in the Royal Mint context. In the case of legislation
relating to food and health and safety, the law applies to the
Crown, but the Crown cannot be prosecuted under it. Instead a
system of Crown censure and Crown notices is used, publicising
the inspectors' findings. The HSE investigation into the Mint
resulted in Crown censure. Crown immunity also does not grant
protection to individuals from prosecution. In the Mint case,
a thorough investigation by Police and HSE concluded that no Director
or Manager could be prosecuted. Crown immunity also does not give
protection from a civil claim. In this particular case the Mint
has already written to the representatives of the deceased to
confirm admission of liability and asking them to provide details
of the quantum of their claim (a schedule of dependency).
Future policy on Crown immunity
The Government's position on Crown immunity
remains as set out by Lord Falconer in his response from a Parliamentary
Question laid by Lord Kennet, given on 4 November 1999. The Crown's
immunity from criminal prosecution has been eroded in certain
specific areas. The 1988 Road Traffic Offenders Act introduced
a system of "nominated defendants" for the Crown who
could be prosecuted and fined on behalf of the Crown. The Food
Safety Act 1990 stops short of criminal liability but permits
the Court to declare acts or omissions of the Crown as unlawful.
Similar provisions appear in the Environmental Protection Act
1990, the Environment Act 1995, the Chemical Weapons Act 1996
and the Transport Act 2000. In an alternative approach, National
Health Service authorities as Crown corporate bodies were immune
from prosecution. This immunity has been removed in stages since
The Government has recently given consideration
to the general issue of the state's immunity from criminal proceedings.
Recent consultation papers (on corporate killing and health and
safety) have proposed modifications of immunity. In the light
of responses to that consultation, officials have analysed the
options and advice is to be put to Ministers.