the Disillusioned kid: Class Action
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Sunday, September 05, 2004

Class Action

On Wednesday, charges against former Railtrack executives over the Hatfield Rail disaster - when a Kings Cross to Leeds GNER express was derailed by a broken track on 17 October 2000, killing 4 and injuring many others - were dropped. The BBC report that this has "reignited the debate about whether the UK needs a new corporate killing law." Such a law was promised in New Labour's 1997 manifesto, but the government have yet to deliver.

Lawyer for the Hatfield victims Louise Christian, explains what is required to punish a company for corporate killing,
At the moment the law means an individual human being has to be found guilty of manslaughter and has to be a controlling mind of the company, such as a senior manager or director, whose actions might be seen to embody those of the company.
Christian and others have called for a change in the law to allow companies to be charged with manslaughter even where a single director cannot be blamed and to make it easier to punish directors for failings they should have foreseen.

Christian explains why the promised new law has not been brought in, "There has been prolonged lobbying from the CBI and from individual companies. There hasn't been the political will to bring it forwards." Indeed, the CBI (Confederation of British Industry, essentially a bosses' trade union) are (according to a spokesman) "unconvinced that there is a need for new legislation because we think it is adequately covered by the current health and safety legislation." The Institute of Directors is less dismissive, but is also opposed to the singling out of directors:
There needs to be some sort of sanction on a company itself... but we don't think an individual, perhaps through no fault of their own, should be singled out for punishment when perhaps the incident was beyond their control.
They don't say whether they believe they should be singled out when it is through a fault of their own.

The reporting of the "debate" follows all the usual conventions. All sides are given a chance to put their view, including "campaigners" seeking a change in the law and representatives of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) who support the law. The one thing it fails to point out, as you would expect, is the class aspect. This requires some explanation, but first some statistics. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2002/3 "[t]here were 235 fatal injuries to workers in 2003/04, a rate of 0.81 per hundred thousand workers." (Note that this figure would not include incidents like Hatfield as those deaths were not to workers.) As Mark Thomas pointed out in a programme on the issue in 2002, if there were a similar number of deaths amongst corporate executives (as they spontaneously combust wanking over their bonuses?!) there would be a law passed on the matter almost immediately. As long as its only workers dying, the problem can be ignored as irrelevant.

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