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sentence handed down following fifth corporate manslaughter conviction

17 January 2014

On 22 November 2013, Princes Sporting Club Limited became the fifth UK company to be successfully prosecuted for Corporate Manslaughter. Following a guilty plea a fine of £134,579.69, equal to the entire assets of the company, was imposed at Southwark Crown Court.

In the first ever use of such powers, a publicity order was also imposed requiring the company to publicise details of the conviction.

Background

On 11 September 2010, Mari-Simon Cronje, an 11 year old girl dies from injuries sustained during a banana boat ride organised by Princes Sporting Club Limited.

The company accepted that her death had been caused by health and safety failures that created a foreseeable risk of such a tragedy. In particular it was criticised for the lack of a supervising adult on the towing speedboat, the lack of luminous helmets for children participating and the boat making unnecessary tight-angled turns. It was also accepted by HHJ McCreath, sentencing, that there had been a poor attitude towards health and safety at the club as evidenced by previous concerns expressed by the companys own health and safety coordinator.

Princes Sporting Club Limited ceased trading before sentence was passed. A separate health and safety charge originally brought against a director of the company was not proceeded with.

The decision

Princes Sporting Club was fined £134,579.69, representing the entire value of its assets. In passing that sentence HHJ McCreath observed that, had the company still been trading, he would have imposed a fine which would have put it out of business.

HHJ McCreath went on to say that, even in the context of corporate manslaughter, he considered the case to be a very serious one. He identified that an obvious risk had existed.

Despite the lack of any direct impact on a company no longer trading, the judge decided to impose a publicity order to serve as a warning to other watersports operators.

The Law

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which came into force on 6 April 2008, created the offence of corporate manslaughter. Such an offence is committed when the way in which an organisation manages or organises its activities causes a persons death and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care.

In addition Section 10 of that Act provides a court sentencing for such an offence the power to impose a publicity order. Such an order requires the company being sentenced to publicise, in a specific manner, the fact that it has been convicted of the offence, specified particulars of the offence, the amount of any fine imposed and the terms of any remedial order made.

Comment

In many ways this case is similar to the four previous successful corporate manslaughter prosecutions. It involved a relatively small company without a complex management structure and with a director who had significant day-to-day involvement in the business. As with two of the previous cases charges against an individual director were abandoned in the face of a guilty plea from the company.

This is the first such case relating to a company no longer trading. It continues the record that none of the fines imposed for corporate manslaughter have yet reached the £500,000 starting point found in the relevant sentencing guidelines.

There are however two points that make this decision noteworthy, perhaps more for the insight they provide into the courts likely attitude to cases in the future than for their significance to Princes Sporting Club Ltd.

The first is the clear indication that, where failures are serious enough, the courts will be willing to impose fines that would put a company out of business. This is in contrast to at least three of the previous decisions where particular effort has been made to avoid that consequence, by allowing payments over long periods of time.

The second is the first use of a publicity order. The usefulness of such orders has been questioned in previous cases. However, the Crown Prosecution Service actively sought such an order in this case. Time will tell whether this signals a change in approach.

Finally, this case further highlights the recent increase is corporate manslaughter prosecutions. Following only one conviction in over four years, there have now been four further convictions in around a year. With at least three more cases before the courts, prosecution being brought within a shorter period of time and a significant rise in the number of investigations opened in 2012, an upwards trend is clearly emerging.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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