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Corporate manslaughter trial to begin next week

16 February 2010

The first trial of a company for the new offence of corporate manslaughter will open at Bristol Crown Court next week.

Cotswold Geotechnical Holdings is being prosecuted, along with its director Peter Eaton, under the Corporate Manslaughter Act 2007 following the death of a young geologist, Alexander Wright.

The 27-year-old was taking soil samples from a pit which had been excavated as part of a site survey in Stroud, Gloucestershire, when the sides of the pit collapsed, crushing him.

Following a one-day pre-trial review earlier this month, proceedings will open on Tuesday, with the prosecution expected to start giving evidence the following day.

Final guidelines published by the Sentencing Guidelines Council are virtually unchanged to the draft guidelines published last year (see Solicitors Journal 153/41, 3 November 2009).

Fines for companies and organisations found guilty of corporate manslaughter “may be millions of pounds and should seldom be below £500,000”, a spokeswoman for the council said.

“In deciding the level of fine, account must be taken of the financial circumstances of the offending organisation.

“When fixing the fine, a court should not be influenced by the impact on shareholders and directors, nor consider the costs of complying with other sanctions. However, the effect on the employment of the innocent may be relevant, as may the effect on provision of services to the public.

“Other factors that would aggravate the offence and raise the fine above the relevant minimum level include the number of deaths and serious injury caused, injury to vulnerable persons, failure to heed warnings or respond to near misses of a similar nature, cost-cutting, and deliberate failure to obtain or comply with relevant licences.”

The spokeswoman said publicity orders, compelling companies and organisations to publish statements about their conviction for corporate manslaughter, details of the offence and the fine, are part of the penalty and should be imposed in virtually all cases.

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