The case in New Zealand for corporate manslaughter (and murder?)


In November 2010 and February 2011 there were two separate cases of potential corporate manslaughter in New Zealand. One was caused by a mine disaster where a coal mine exploded. The other was caused by an earthquake. In both instances, gross negligence was involved.

The Pike River mine was poorly designed and perhaps even more poorly run. At the time of the 19 November 2010 explosion that trapped 29 miners, all of whom were killed by a second larger explosion on 24 November 2010. Basic gas monitoring, first aid equipment and evacuation procedures were all lacking. The boss, Peter Whittall knew all of this, but did not try to address the issues.

The Canterbury Television Building was built in 1986. When it was designed by David Harding, working for Alan M. Reay Consultants, the building was designed by someone with totally inadequate knowledge of multiple story building design. On 26 December 2010, it suffered critical damage in an aftershock caused by the 04 September 2010 earthquake. On 22 February 2011 a bigger aftershock hit, causing it to collapse because it was structurally unsound killing 115 people.

New Zealand Police charged Peter Whittall regarding the deaths of 29 miners in the mine he was responsible for. However a deal was done for a payout of $3.41 million in return for the charges being dropped.

A Police investigation into the C.T.V. building found a strong case forBut New Zealand police say that there is no choice but to lay charges of manslaughter, as opposed to corporate manslaughter. A significant problem that the Police say they have is the law does not enable a charge of corporate manslaughter.

However just because there is not a specific provision in New Zealand’s Crimes Act 1961, does not mean nothing is being done – a Labour M.P., Damien O’Connor is promoting a change to said law in a Private Members Bill that will amend the legislation to enable such a charge. This is dependent on the Bill being drawn from the ballot, and then surviving the journey through the House.

Corporate manslaughter is an act where a company can be charged with an act of homicide, that was not necessarily intentional (see below)

But – and this is highly hypothetical – could a corporate be potentially charged with murder? This is to say, in legal parlance that a corporate knowingly made a person or people carry out an act where it was known before the act was carried out that death was a high probability (or certainty). Not being a lawyer or have any connection to the legal profession, I cannot answer this other to be sure that the threshhold for this charge to be triggered is very high. And it might be impossible to ever satisfy, but for the purposes of being a robust law with appropriate coverage, I believe it should be considered.

Hopefully there will never be a case of corporate manslaughter having to go before a New Zealand court of law. However the deaths of 115 people in a fatally flawed building was more than a gross act of negligence, and as New Zealand law has no more severe charge that can be laid, the case therefore exists to overhaul the law to provide for corporate manslaughter and – heaven forbid – murder.

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