June 28, 2005
Corporate Manslaughter in the UK
Posted by Caroline Bradley

CMS Cameron McKenna just published the results of its survey of views on the UK Government's proposed legislation on corporate manslaughter and its response to the consultation paper. I previously suggested that the survey document was rather skewed. Unsurprisingly respondents had some reservations. For example, when the survey document asked whether the proposed new offence could encourage risk averse behaviour and bureaucratic systems, 71.6% of respondents said they believed it could. Answers to other questions were rather more mixed. The response challenges the idea that there is significant support for changing the rules:

Of the 150 formal responses to the government’s previous consultation in 2000, the majority apparently favoured the principle of the Bill. If it was simply ‘ballot’ counting that was relied on to reach this conclusion we would question the approach to a consultation like this. Although there are exceptions, businesses on the whole do not take a public stance on this issue and prefer instead to channel their formal positions through their trade associations or bodies such as the CBI. It is understandable that there will be many more submissions from diverse sources including trade unions, pressure groups and concerned individuals, expressing their own opinions. If our survey is anything to go by individual opinion is rather more cautious about reform than appears from counting the formal responses to consultations (footnote omitted).

I have been spending time recently reading financial trade associations' responses to consultations on proposed financial regulations in the US and the EU (for a paper on Private Law-Making which is currently in draft form (I welcome comments)). It isn't really surprising that technical rule proposals produce responses from people with technical expertise. "Trade Unions, pressure groups and concerned individuals" don't frequently comment on technical proposals for new securities rules. But their views shouldn't count even when they are motivated enough to respond? Because businesses would be too embarrassed to oppose making the rules tougher openly ?

I'm not particularly in favour of firm criminal liability for most of the obvious reasons. So making it easier to convict corporations of manslaughter doesn't necessarily make much sense as a matter of policy. I am concerned that a law firm should so blithely assert that  the fact that large numbers of people take the time and effort to respond positively to such a proposal should just be brushed aside.

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