Judgement April 15, 2014

A jury at Norwich Crown Court has returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty in the first acquittal for the offence of corporate manslaughter since the new law came into force in 2008.

The legislation states that an organisation or business is guilty of the offence of corporate manslaughter if the way in which it conducts or organises its activities causes a person's death and amounts to a gross breach of duty of care of which senior management failures are a substantial element.

National law firm, DWF, represented the client which also faced a single alternative count under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 of failing to ensure so far as reasonably possible the safety of an employee in the workplace.

This case involved a Norfolk based agricultural business where an employee was tragically killed by electrocution in 2010 when a trailer being towed by a tractor he was driving came into contact with an overhead power line.

Much of the evidence concerned issues of causation which forms an essential ingredient of the offence.

After a twelve day trial, the company was acquitted of corporate manslaughter but convicted of the health and safety offence.

To date, all companies charged with corporate manslaughter have pleaded guilty because of the weight of the evidence or (in one instance) been found guilty after a trial. The outcome of this trial shows that the corporate killing laws, which unlike health and safety laws are investigated by the police and prosecuted by the CPS, can be successfully defended. Sentencing guidelines indicate that a company found guilty can be fined out of business with the starting point for fines being £500,000.

The DWF defence team comprised of Rupert Nevin, Vikki Woodfine and Laura Wilmshurst of the firm's national Regulatory team.

The company was also represented at trial by Graham Trembath QC and Miles Bennett of 5 Paper Buildings.

Sentencing is to take place on 6 June at Norwich Crown Court.

Vikki Woodfine

Partner - Head of Road Haulage & Logistics

Best known as the “Lorry Lawyer” I am also Head of the Road Haulage & Logistics group at DWF and specialise in health and safety defence work and road transport law.