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Those were the points I tried to make in Committee. I said that I would study the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, which I did, but I did not find it satisfactory in all respects. He made two main points. First, he suggested that the time limit that I was putting forward was too short. However, in the case of corporate manslaughter the time limit does not start until the victim dies, even though that may be many years after the events giving rise to the claim. The Crown Prosecution Service then has three years after the death in which to bring the proceedings, so my time limit clearly cannot be said to be too short. Indeed, the reason I chose a limitation period based on the Limitation Act rather than a fixed period of five, 10 or 15 years is that it is much more flexible.

The noble Lord’s second point was that there is no time limit in cases of manslaughter where they are individual offences. That is right, but the circumstances are different. In the case of manslaughter committed by an individual, the victim dies at once, which is the most usual case, or within a very short time of the events giving rise to the claim. However in the case of corporate manslaughter, the

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court might, if this amendment is not accepted, be required to investigate the conduct of senior management many years after the events giving rise to the death. In the mean time, the senior management of the company would probably have changed, witnesses would be incapable of remembering the events or might be dead and the evidence would have gone cold in every respect. It is when cases of this sort are being investigated years after the event that the worst miscarriages of justice will arise. This is a simple and beneficial amendment. In ordinary cases, it would ensure a fair trial and in more extreme cases, it would obviate potential miscarriages of justice. It is not good enough simply to rely, as the noble Lord did, on the discretion of the Attorney-General or the inherent jurisdiction of the court. We need something in the Bill, and therefore I beg to move.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I am sorry to have to disappoint the noble and learned Lord because I am not persuaded by his argument. I am sorry that he was not persuaded by the arguments that my noble friend Lord Bassam put when this was considered briefly towards the end of the Committee stage. I shall deal with the amendment shortly, but I expect that I will not add to the arguments that have been advanced, and the noble and learned Lord has already indicated that he is not persuaded by them.

As the noble and learned Lord acknowledged, the criminal law does not normally impose limitation periods on proceedings for serious offences. There is a limitation period for summary offences, but we do not have one in relation to serious criminal offences. It would be all the more surprising to create one in this case because we are not really creating a new offence, but are creating a variety of gross negligence manslaughter attached to a corporate body by adapting the current offence. As the noble and learned Lord recognises, there is no limitation period for the current offence of gross negligence manslaughter, notwithstanding that that is itself based on the existence of a civil law duty. So, there is no conceptual difference between those.

The noble and learned Lord makes a very fair point about the need, where possible, for prosecutions to be brought expeditiously, and, indeed, makes the point that there will be cases where Article 6 of the European convention may require that to be done and there may be sanctions imposed if it is not done. What that time is will depend on all the circumstances of the case. One has to think only of some of the tragic incidents that have occurred on the railways in recent years to realise the complexity of the investigations that may take place and therefore the time that may be needed in order to reach a proper conclusion about whether a prosecution should be brought. There are all sorts of reasons why that may be complicated—inquiries and so forth.

I do not fully understand and I respectfully do not accept the noble and learned Lord’s argument that in the case of an individual there is not a problem because the death will occur very quickly. I am not sure why it should not be the case, whether it is corporate or individual responsibility, that the death

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can occur shortly or some time later. I can see that there may be a case in relation to safety. The noble and learned Lord might have in mind asbestosis or something of that sort where it may be difficult to identify an individual who may be responsible at that point of time so that corporate liability may be the only one. But I would identify, as did my noble friend Lord Bassam in Committee, that there is a long stop—there is more than one long stop.

If it were right that it were not in the public interest to prosecute in a particular case that would be a decision which the prosecuting authority, whoever it might be, would have to consider. The court clearly has an ability to stop prosecutions if it considers that it would not be right because a fair trial could not be held. It is a high test. I freely acknowledge that, and it would not by any means necessarily prevent prosecutions taking place some time after the incidents in question, but the court would have to look at it. If there needs to be some protection and safeguard, for my part I would rather that it be that flexible safeguard, having regard to all the circumstances, than an unprecedented and effectively arbitrary time limit imposed simply on this sort of criminal offence. So, for those reasons which I hope that the noble and learned Lord will not find disrespectfully put, I cannot accept the amendment and would invite him to withdraw it.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I am naturally disappointed by the response of the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General. He has not really dealt with the beneficial results which would flow from the amendment. But there it is. In all the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 [Abolition of liability of corporations for manslaughter at common law]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendments Nos. 50 to 52:

(a) a partnership within the Partnership Act 1890 (c. 39), or (b) a limited partnership registered under the Limited Partnerships Act 1907 (c. 24),

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On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 21 [Commencement and savings]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 53:

On Question, amendment agreed to.


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