Corporate Manslaughter

I have been interested for a while in the ways that financial trade associations seek to influence the law, particularly in the context of international financial markets and transactions. This week I am working on my draft of a paper called Private International Law-Making for the Financial Markets which I am going to talk about at the Law & Society Conference in Las Vegas. I have been noticing the ways in which financial trade associations (such as the Bond Market Association and the Securities Industry Association) work together and separately in commenting on proposed regulations.

Last week I saw that CMS Cameron McKenna is inviting people to respond to a survey about the UK Government's proposed Corporate Manslaughter Bill (this proposal is from before the recent election but the new Government proposes to introduce a Bill). The English rules on corporate liability for manslaughter are currently very restrictive. A company is only criminally liable for manslaughter where a “directing mind” of the company was liable for manslaughter. It is difficult to succeed in prosecuting a large company for manslaughter because even if there is one person who is the directing mind that person is likely to be far removed from the people who may be responsible for causing others' deaths.

CMS Cameron McKenna is a law firm, not a financial trade association, and the topic it is inviting comments on is not really directly an international finance topic (although the statute would, if enacted in the form proposed in March, affect the criminal liability of foreign corporations). But CMS Cameron McKenna's invitation to comment on the Government's proposals is an invitation to comment to the firm (which states on its web site that it is preparing a response to the government's consultation) rather than to the Home Office (which published the draft Bill in March). The survey document does not seem to invite responses from those who approve of the idea of increasing the risks of corporate criminal liability. For example, one question asks:

Do you believe the proposed new offence could encourage risk averse behaviour and bureaucratic systems?

Another question asks:

Will those industries which are traditionally exposed to health and safety issues struggle to attract top-level managerial talent in the face of corporate manslaughter prosecutions?

The email on CMS Cameron McKenna's list (although not the web page) suggested that the firm was preparing a response to the consultation on behalf of the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) which expressed reservations about an earlier proposal to expand corporate criminal liability, and in its response to the Queen's Speech said

If the government is going to press ahead on corporate manslaughter, it must ensure that the legislation is fair. The grossly negligent must be separated from genuinely responsible employers who do everything possible to ensure safety.

If the eventual response is published in the CBI's name I'd have no problem with this, but if it is to be published in the law firm's name I would have some problems because of the skewed nature of the survey questions and because I would think that people (in the UK) might think that a law firm would be more neutral on such questions than the CBI. But then perhaps my views about how the legal profession should behave are old-fashioned?

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