Corporate manslaughter offence reconsidered for workplace deaths

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Authors: Tim Clarke and Grace Stacey-Jacobs

​​​Corporate manslaughter provisions are being reconsidered by the Government, and may be inserted into the Health and Safety Reform Bill expected to come into force early next year.

Yesterday, Justice Minister Amy Adams said that she has asked Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse to consider including a new corporate manslaughter provision in the bill. The Justice Minister considers that there needs to be a clear pathway for prosecutions against corporations when an employee dies from serious health and safety failings, and that, in her opinion, the most natural place for such provision would be in the health and safety reform legislation.

Minister Woodhouse has responded by saying that there is already a strong sanctions regime in place in the Bill, but that he was “open to having a look at the suggestion”.

The Government’s reconsideration of a corporate manslaughter offence is an odd development at such a late stage in the progress of the bill, especially given the Select Committee has already received submissions and is due to report back to the House on 29 July 2015 (some 10 months after the report was first due). It is also somewhat inconsistent with recent media reports speculating that the bill has been “watered down”.

The issue of corporate manslaughter hit the headlines after the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy. The proposed offence was later recommended by the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety in May 2013. Rather than being included in the health and safety reform legislation, the Taskforce recommended that the current criminal manslaughter offence be extended to corporations, which would require attributing criminal liability to a corporation where two or more individuals of the required seniority within the company engaged in conduct that, had that been the conduct of only one person, would have made them personally liable for the office. At the time, Prime Minister John Key said that such a law was unlikely.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that he is aware the provisions are being considered but has not seen the final details of the proposal. He reserved any judgement at this stage.

Details about the potential new offence have yet to be released; however, the Justice Minister has indicated that any penalties would be significant.


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  • Tim Clarke

    Partner Auckland
  • Rachael Brown

    Partner Wellington
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  • Employment and workplace safety
  • Health and safety