Select Committee on Home Affairs and Work and Pensions First Report


89. When the Law Commission published its draft Bill on Involuntary Homicide in 1996 it included a specific clause dealing with causation. This stated that a management failure by a corporation "may be regarded as a cause of a person's death notwithstanding that the immediate cause is the act or omission of an individual."[99] The Law Commission believed that such express provision was necessary in order to make it clear that the ordinary principles of causation for homicide were applicable to the corporate offence. Accordingly, a jury could find that a corporation's management failure was the cause of death despite an intervention by an individual, for example the deliberate failure of an unsupervised front-line operator. The Law Commission argued that "there is a danger that, without [this provision]… the application of the ordinary rules of causation would in many cases result in a management failure being treated as a "stage already set", and hence not linked in law to the death".[100]

90. The present draft Bill does not include the Law Commission's original clause, although the Home Office stated that the "ordinary rules of causation will apply" in determining whether a management failure has caused a victim's death.[101] The stated grounds for this decision are that case law has developed since the Law Commission reported in 1996 and a separate provision on causation is no longer needed.[102] The Government believes that the current position on causation means that an "intervening act will only break the chain of causation if it is extraordinary - and we do not consider that corporate liability should arise where an individual has intervened in the chain of events in an extraordinary fashion causing the death, or the death was otherwise immediately caused by an extraordinary and unforeseeable event".[103]

91. Although some witnesses supported the Government's position on causation,[104] a significant number urged that the Law Commission's original clause should be resurrected in the draft Bill. Disaster Action warned that without the clause it "may be extremely difficult for the prosecution to persuade a jury to convict a corporation of manslaughter".[105] The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association were unsure whether the draft Bill changed the current common law position on causation.[106]

92. The Law Reform Committee of the Bar Council submitted that although the Government had asserted that case law had changed since the Law Commission's report, the inclusion of a causation clause "would give statutory effect to the development in the case law and have the merit of clarity within the provisions specifically drafted for the purpose of corporate manslaughter".[107] Furthermore, the Bar Council suggested that including the clause would support the Government's aim that the management failure test:

    "focuses on the way in which a particular activity was being managed or organised. This means that organisations are not liable on the basis of any immediate, operational negligence causing death, or indeed for the unpredictable, maverick acts of its employees. Instead, it focuses responsibility on the working practices of the organisation"[108]

93. Since publication of the draft Bill the Law Commission has stated that although the clause does add "some value" they "do not regard this point as one of major importance".[109]

94. Although we agree with the Government that the courts have stated that only abnormal and extraordinary events will break the causal chain,[110] we are not convinced that this principle will be of general application or applied to cases of corporate manslaughter. Even if the Home Office is correct in its assertion that case law has developed and clarified the law of causation, we believe there is merit in stating the position for the corporate offence on the face of the legislation. We agree with the argument put forward by, amongst others, the Bar Council, that, if the common law were to change, it could change in a direction making it difficult to secure a conviction for the offence of corporate manslaughter.[111] We recommend that the Government provide certainty on the law of causation, as it applies to corporate manslaughter, by including the Law Commission's original clause in the Bill.

99   Law Commission, Legislating the Criminal code: Involuntary Manslaughter: Item 11 of the Sixth Programme of Law Reform: Criminal Law: Report No 237, HC (1995-96) 171, clause 4(2)(b) Back

100   Law Commission, HC (1995-96) 171, para 8.39 Back

101   Home Office, Corporate Manslaughter: The Government's Draft Bill for Reform, Cm 6497, March 2005, para 49 Back

102   Draft Corporate Manslaughter Bill, para 50 Back

103   Draft Corporate Manslaughter Bill, para 51 Back

104   Volume II, Ev 47 and 84 Back

105   Volume II, Ev 70 Back

106   Volume II, Ev 14 Back

107   Volume II, Ev 118 Back

108   Volume II, Ev 118 Back

109   Volume II, Ev 262 Back

110   Environmental Agency (formerly National Rivers Authority) v Empress Car Co (Abertillery) Ltd [1999] 2 AC 22. Back

111   Volume III, Q 81 [Mr Donnellan] Back

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