Clause 9

Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 26 October 2006.

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Factors for jury

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

I beg to move amendment No. 137, in page 6, line 33, after ‘death’ insert ‘or serious injury’.

Amendment No. 137 seeks to provide that thejury should consider serious injury as well as death. Clause 9 is about the factors that the jury must take into account. Amendment No. 136, which I did not move, was linked to earlier amendments about whether the jury should decide everything, but it is no longer relevant because we have already had that debate.

Under subsection (2), the jury must consider whether the evidence shows that the organisation failed to comply with any health and safety legislation relating to the alleged breach and, if so, how serious that failure was—and, as things stand at the moment, how much of a risk of death it posed. An old trite saying at the criminal bar is that murder is grievous bodily harm with a corpse. The truth is that the risk of serious injury and the risk of death cannot be disentangled one from the other.

When deciding or assessing risk, organisations should consider the risk of serious injury rather than the risk of death. That is certainly how it has always appeared to me to be in health and safety practice. I was therefore a little surprised to see that subsection (2) concentrates on the risk of death rather than the risk of serious injury or of the two together. It seems to me that negligence arises once one starts to ignore serious injury, because death results from serious injury.

It is a simple issue. The Minister may be able to persuade me that the wording of the Bill is perfectly adequate, but I nevertheless move the amendment for the Committee’s consideration.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

In the draft Bill, we proposed that the jury should be required to consider the risk of death or serious injury when deciding on the question of whether a breach was grossly negligent. When giving evidence to the scrutiny Committee, Sir Igor Judge said that to include the risk of serious injury would mean that the test moved away from the current law. A number of cases have considered whether the test for manslaughter should consider the risk of both serious injury and death, and it has been decided that it should be risk of death alone.

It is hard to envisage circumstances in which a high risk of serious injury existed in which there was also a risk of death. If someone has died, there clearly existed a risk of death. However, we think it right that the jury should be asked to consider management failures against the risk of death that was posed, given that the offence will be one of homicide. We do not wish to suggest a different test from that used under the current law—nor, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, do we want to create a bonanza for lawyers.

If the jury considers the risk of serious injury to be relevant, it will be able to take that into account in appropriate circumstances. Subsection (4) ensures that the jury will be able to consider any other matter that it considers relevant, including the degree to which the activities in question posed a risk of serious injury.

I hope that that gives sufficient explanation of why we included the risk of death alone in subsection (2), rather than the risk of death and of serious injury. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with that and will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General

Far be it from me to question the reasonings of Sir Igor Judge. I was influenced by my experience of health and safety at work law, which centres on issues of injury and risk rather than the result of those, which may be death. However, the Minister has persuaded me and subsection (4) appears to cover the matter. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.