The Health and Safety Executive plans to hold a series of mock court trials next year to shock construction directors into realising what will happens if they are prosecuted for safety lapses, writes Tom Broughton.
The move comes as the TUC is stepping up pressure on the government to press ahead with its manifesto commitment to introduce corporate manslaughter legislation.
The mock trials, planned for next September, are to be held in Ipswich, Brentwood and south Cambridgeshire.
An HSE insider said that, although the events would focus on a magistrate’s hearing into a major incident on site and not a fatality, the underlying purpose of the trials would be to highlight directors’ potential responsibility under a corporate killing law.
With this in mind, the HSE is considering whether to stage trials of individual company directors in a crown court with professional actors playing the key roles.
The insider said: “There is huge union pressure at the moment for a corporate killing bill to progress – the mock trials will demonstrate the pressures that directors will face.”
There is huge union pressure for a corporate killing bill —the mock trials will demonstrate the pressures that directors will face
He added that the trials would also demonstrate that some of the accidents that take place on site are not the fault of company directors.
He said: “A view could be taken that company directors could be unfairly prosecuted and face severe penalties for deaths on site over which they have absolutely no control.”
The trials, which are likely to last between two and three hours, would be conducted by volunteer representatives from the legal profession and magistrates. After the trials, the proceedings will switch to the settlement process and claims for compensation.
Sandy Carmichael, an HSE inspector and a member of the East of England Working Well Together campaign group – which promotes collaboration between all areas of the construction industry, including employers and trade unions – said that the trials would give firms that comply with safety laws an insight into the procedure following site accidents. He said: “We’re hoping there will be a large take-up of firms wanting to get involved.”
Bryan Rye, UCATT eastern region organiser and also a member of the Working Well Together group, added that he welcomed the mock trials as a means of making directors aware of the court process. He said: “UCATT is fully behind the idea and plans to take an active role in proceedings.”