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What is corporate manslaughter?

What would a corporate manslaughter law look like?   

It is important that corporate manslaughter laws are effective and workable at deterring and holding to account both corporations and senior directors and CEOs. 

There are 2 main elements to what we need in an effective corporate manslaughter law: 

  • Introducing in law, the ability for criminal punishment for corporations; and 
  • Improving the law’s ability to provide penalties against guilty CEOs, directors, and officers of the corporation.  

A New Zealand corporate manslaughter law needs to: 

  1. Recognise legally that corporations have an internal structure and decision-making process that can be held accountable for corporate manslaughter. This will allow the courts to find corporations guilty of such offenses. 
  2. Ensure workability with the current legislation by:
    1. Amending the definition of ‘Homicide’ in the Crimes Act to include killing of a human being by a non-natural person. 
    2. Amending section 160 of the Crimes Act to specifically mention breaches of H&S duties, to allow duty breaches to be considered culpable homicide.  
    3. Having section 2 of the Crimes Act (Interpretation section) specifically importing HSWA concept of PCBU liability for a corporation. 
  3. Ensure that the worse offending individuals who breach their duties under HSWA are also potentially liable for culpable homicide under the Crimes Act. 
  4. Strengthen punishments for corporations and individuals found guilty of corporate manslaughter that reflects the scale of the offending.  
  5. Ensure Directors of offending corporations face proper consequences commercially such as removal of their position as corporation director and removing their ability to be a director for any other business. 
  6. This would also require amending the Companies Act sections 382 and section 383 to disqualify directors who have been found guilty of corporate manslaughter from both directorships they hold and from becoming directors for new corporations. 

Glossary of terms: 

PCBU – person conducting a business or undertaking  

HSWA – Health and Safety at Work Act 2015