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Edited by Stephen Tully
Chapter 8: Corporate Criminal Responsibility
8 Corporate criminal responsibility Celia Wells Introduction The recent emergence of corporate responsibility as a topic of debate reflects concerns about the safety of workers and of members of the public. Disasters such as rail crashes, ferry capsizes and chemical plant explosions have led to calls for those enterprises to be prosecuted for manslaughter. Cultural changes in risk perception have played an important role in prompting the evolution of legal principles of attribution. Doubts about the appropriateness of the two theories of corporate responsibility hitherto recognised by legal systems have set in. One of the more egregious examples of poor safety attitudes was seen when in 1987 a car ferry left the Belgian port of Zeebrugge with its doors open and capsized with the loss of nearly 200 lives. The subsequent inquiry in England, where P&O Ferries was based, found a history of open-door sailings, and management disregard of obvious safety measures such as a system of indicator lights informing the bridge whether the doors were closed. Although P&O were prosecuted for manslaughter, itself a historic event, it proved impossible to convict the company because of the restrictive identification theory. The very fact that safety was not taken seriously within the company, that no director had responsibility for safety, made the identification theory a clumsy tool of attribution. Corporations and criminal law Corporations are legally deemed to be single entities, distinct and separate from all the individuals who comprise them. Legal personality means that corporations can sue and...
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