Call for corporate manslaughter law

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 11:38 19/06/2013

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Health and safety laws have been a "half-arsed, half-measure" and changes are needed including a crime of corporate manslaughter Labour justice spokesman Andrew Little says.

In a speech to an aviation conference in Dunedin, he said the corporate world must know the public expects to call to account unjustified actions or omissions that end up killing people, 

Little has a Bill on corporate manslaughter in the ballot for parliamentary member's Bills.

He said a corporate manslaughter law, as opposed to the existing ordinary manslaughter under the Crimes Act, dealt with collective failures of governance and management.

"It deals with systems failures. And it deals with poor culture at all levels. It is difficult under the Crimes Act for the collective failures of a number of responsible people - any of whom may be regarded as culpable - to be called to account."

In the case of the 29 miners who died at Pike River mine, it was not just the directors and management of the company who failed

"The other system that failed was our health and safety regulations, including the inspectorate. Put another way, it shouldn't only be (former Pike River chief executive) Peter Whittall in the dock when that case goes to trial."

Regulators and the inspectorate should equally be held to account through a corporate manslaughter law.

He said his call for a specific law on corporate manslaughter reflected concern, if not despair, at the persistently high workplace fatality rate, which saw about one worker death a week attributable to work.

Accident investigations in the aviation sector acknowledged the purpose of the limitations on the use of cockpit voice recorders in criminal and other proceedings.

"It is in the public interest that aviation accidents, because of the impact that an unsafe aviation industry could have, are able to proceed without obstruction from those who would otherwise seek to withhold evidence as a matter of avoiding self-incrimination." 

He said the present health and safety regime has seen an increase in the rate of workplace fatalities.

"After 20 years, the penalties actually being imposed by the courts clearly do not reflect the seriousness implied by the maximum fines possible."

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