Crime XXXXXX – Involuntary Manslaughter VI

In R v P & O European Ferries (Dover) (1991) (Corporate Manslaughter) we look into the possibility of holding a company responsible for the reckless act(s) of its employee(s) which subsequently leads to the death of those who have entrusted the company with their lives (corporate manslaughter). The captain of a ferry and five of his crew members failed to close the main loading doors on a cross-channel ferry and as a result a few hundred passengers lost their lives.

The first question we need to ask was why an action was brought in criminal law and not in tort (civil law), where the chances are higher that compensation would be paid out for example see Ward v Tesco Stores Ltd (1976) (physical injury) or Barrett v Ministry of Defense (1995) (loss of life)?

Secondly, does vicarious liability (a legal doctrine that imposes a liability on another by virtue of a legal relationship or a special relationship with the tortfeasor (the person who committed the tort)) extend to criminal law? The general rule is that vicarious liability does not extend to criminal law.

In order to obtain a conviction for corporate manslaughter: –

  1. We need to identify the “controlling mind” of the company which is easier when company decisions are made by one person as opposed to a group of people. In the latter (where there is more than one person involved in making the day to day decisions of running the company it becomes more difficult to narrow down the “controlling mind”)
  2. Once we have identified the “controlling mind”, we need to establish that the “controlling mind” was reckless in the legal sense of the word.

The company was found to be not guilty of manslaughter. That however does not mean that companies cannot be liable or cannot be found guilty of manslaughter see R v OLL Ltd (1994)

In R v Reid (1992) the defendant was driving on a dual carriageway and overtook another car on the left or the nearside and hit a hut that was close to the road as a result of which a passenger who was in the car with him was killed.

The defendant was found to be guilty of manslaughter. The test for recklessness cannot be limited to the subjective test and it includes failing to appreciate an obvious risk.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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