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“Corporate Criminal Liability For Manslaughter Has Finally Been Given Statutory Form And Rightly So.” Discuss.

4525 words - 18 pages

"Corporate criminal liability for manslaughter has finally been given statutory form and rightly so." Discuss.Over the past 20 years, courts have been unable to successfully pierce the 'corporate veil' and hold companies to account for high-profile transportation and corporate failures which resulted in numerous deaths. The deficiencies under the common law offence of gross negligence manslaughter to secure corporate convictions caused the law relating to corporate manslaughter to be riddled with controversy. Despite the fact that academics and policy makers have increasingly clamoured for a major overhaul of this area of law, it has taken two Law Commission papers and a 'decade of wrangling, bartering, debate and delay', for corporate criminal liability to finally have been given statutory form in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. The first part of this essay will analyse the common law and its shortcomings to demonstrate the inherent need for corporate criminal liability to be given statutory form. The second part of this essay will evaluate to what extent the shortcomings under the common law have in fact been remedied under the Act and whether its ultimate outcome will be of value.Part 1:The Common Law and its ShortcomingsThe traditional basis for any form of criminal liability requires proof of the criminal act having been committed ("actus reus") along with mental culpability ("mens rea"). This posed a conceptually difficult task when attempting to attribute criminal liability to a company due to its status as a "separate legal person" under the Solomon doctrine. As a legal construct, which can only act through those who are acting as agents of the company, a company cannot be held to have caused and much less be mentally culpable for any crime. In an attempt to circumvent the difficulties of imposing corporate criminal liability, the court developed private law concepts in the form of the: vicarious liability principle, the identification doctrine and the aggregation theory.Vicarious LiabilityUnder the vicarious liability doctrine, a company can be held "vicariously liable for the criminal acts of its employees and agents where a natural person would be similarly liable." However, this is a rare and exceptional doctrine in criminal law as it mainly applies when it is imposed by statute or for strict liability offences where no mens rea is required on the part of the employee. Therefore, the courts had to develop a different approach for offences, such as corporate manslaughter, which required the establishment of mens rea.Identification DoctrinePrior to reform, the mechanism by which a corporation could be held criminally liable was by the 'identification doctrine', where courts superimposed the legal personality of a company onto the individualistic foundations of criminal liability. The courts in effect 'lifted the corporate veil' and held corporations criminally liable if it was established inter alia (i)...

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