The ‘death in custody’ provisions in the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into force this month (1st September 2011). The campaigning group INQUEST welcomed the move arguing that there were ‘serious gaps in accountability’ following a death in custody.
The legislation enabled organisations to be found guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which their activities were run resulted in a death and amounted to a gross breach of a duty of care to the deceased. This offence dealt with the difficulty of obtaining convictions of corporate bodies that previously required the prosecution to show that the offence was committed by the organisation’s ‘directing mind’. Now, under section 2(1)(d) the legislation applies to custody providers. According to INQUEST, the ‘current gap in accountability’ is ‘exemplified by the fact that of the 12 unlawful killing verdicts returned by juries at inquests into deaths in custody since 1990, to date, none have led to a successful criminal prosecution’. When the Bill was first published in 2007, INQUEST argued that the decision to exclude public bodies (prisons, the police, emergency services and child protection services) from its remit had ‘no logical, legal or moral case where grossly negligent practices or management failures have caused fatalities’.