In July, four bills from the National Assembly were rejected by the Presidency. One of such is the Corporate Manslaughter Bill, which was rejected on grounds of constitutional inconsistency. But a thorough look at the Bill shows it has more to offer employees while also putting Government as well as private Organizations on their toes. It also revealed that the Presidency may have read the Bill wrongly and made a judgment based on this error.
The Bill sponsored by the All Progressive Congress (APC) Senator representing Yobe North, Ahmad Lawan, stipulates that “Any Organization whose activities are managed or organized in such a way that it results in the death of a person and such death is occasioned by a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the Organization to the deceased, commits an offence of Corporate Manslaughter”.
To put it simply, government and private agencies and organizations owe a certain duty of care to the people who work for them. Should an action of theirs result in the death of an employee and it is proven that these responsibilities were not met, the body is held responsible for the death of the staff.
But stating reasons for his rejection of the Bill, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote: “Specifically, my attention has been drawn to Section 1(5) of this Bill, which imposes a fine upon the mere indictment of a corporate organisation of the criminal offence of corporate manslaughter.
“This provision appears to be inconsistent with Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution, which enshrines the presumption of innocence until the alleged offender is convicted by a court or tribunal of competent jurisdiction.
“The Bill should clearly specify the penalties to be imposed for the offences created by the Bill”.
However, the President quoted Section 5(1) of the Bill wrongly, as it actually says –“An organisation that commits corporate manslaughter is liable on conviction to a fine.”
The word “indictment”, which simply means to formally accuse, appears just twice in the Bill as studied by ETN24.
The first is in Section 8(6) while the other is in 9(4). While the former says “An organisation that fails to comply with a remedial order commits an offence, and is liable on conviction or indictment to a fine.”, its main section already clarifies that this is when the organization fails to honour a Court Order, as it says “A court which convicts an organisation of corporate manslaughter may make a remedial order requiring the organisation to take specified steps”.
It is this Court Order, given after conviction, that carries a fine should the organization be convicted or indicted for violating it.
The second time the Bill spoke of indictment, it says “An organisation that fails to comply with a publicity order, commits an offence and is liable on conviction or indictment to a fine.” But again, the main section explained this by saying after a Court convicts an orgaization of Corporate Manslaughter, it may instruct the organization to publish certain things about the case. It is the refusal to publish this, as ordered by the Court after conviction, that attracts a fine on indictment.
Who the bill affects
Section two of the Bill states that Organizations it applies to are –
- A corporate Organization whether private or public
- A Government department, whether at the Federal, State or Local Government Council level;
- A Police Force, Paramilitary and the Armed Forces; and
- Partnership, Trade Union or Employers’ association, that is an employer
Corporate Manslaughter laws around the World
Similar to NASS’ proposed Bill is the United Kingdom’s Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 which has been in effect since 2008.
The Canadian republished Crimes Act of 1900 in Section 217 applies “to an offence against the law of a State or another Territory consisting of an act or omission which, if it occurred in the ACT, would constitute a serious offence”.
Following the failure of Police to prosecute over the CTV building collapse in the 2011 Christ Church earthquake, proposals were sent to the New Zealand Government for a Corporate Manslaughter law since 2012, and considerations have been ongoing since then, with the law yet to be enacted.
Iterating the need for the Law, the country’s Justice Minister, Andrew Little, said it was unfair that those responsible for the death of 115 go scot-free, as it was clear from investigations that there was a level of negligence involved in the incident.
“I think it’s regarded as spectacularly unsuccessful in the UK but actually reasonably successful in Canada so I think I’ll first need to go and have a look at all of that. But in the end, we’re a coalition Government that needs everybody to agree”.
Criticizing the Law, Economic Analysis of Law argues the existence of such a crime since civil damages have proven to be a more appropriate means of compensation, recognition of the loss suffered while a deterrent.
“When corporate entities entered the economic and judicial arenas Courts and legislatures considered it “fair” to subject Corporations to some of the same laws that individuals obeyed, but found it difficult and were reluctant to apply criminal sanctions to corporations. A corporation, as distinct from its Board of Directors and Managers, is not a person and has no “mind;” it cannot possess knowledge and intent, the prerequisites to moral culpability”.