Justice Minister Andrew Little: Corporate manslaughter law possible next year

by RNZ / 18 December, 2017

Justice Minister Andrew Little there are gaps in the law when it comes to corporate negligence resulting in death. Photo / RNZ

Justice Minister keen to see law changes that would've covered accountability for the CTV building collapse.

Introducing a corporate manslaughter law should be possible part way through next year following the decision not to prosecute over the CTV building, Justice Minister Andrew Little says.

Police last month said no charges would be laid against the engineers who designed the Canterbury Television building in which 115 people died during the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

They said there was not enough evidence to convict and police could therefore not lay charges of gross negligence.

After that decision, Mr Little said the law needed to change to make sure those responsible for poorly designed buildings be held to account in future.

He has previously raised the prospect of introducing a corporate manslaughter charge.

"We now know through a number of other inquiries that there was a level of negligence involved in the design of the building and perhaps in the inspection following the September 2010 earthquake, and yet no one is called to account.

"That is instinctively wrong, and to the extent that there are gaps in the law."

He said a preliminary report would be due on such a law early next year.

"But I would've thought that part way through next year, we'd be able to look at some changes that would make a difference if the situation that happened with the CTV building happened again."

"I know that Canada has, I think, a reasonably workable corporate manslaughter law that focuses not just on the legal entity but on the directors. If the directors know that there's been a failure in the system or a failure in decision-making then they've got to step up and take some liability as well."

At what was described as a very emotional meeting, Mr Little spoke to about 25 family members of the victims in Christchurch for about an hour and a half yesterday.

"They wanted me to hear their views about the decision not to prosecute. I understood that, [but] I said that there's nothing I can do about that, we need to keep a separation between the prosecuting agency and what politicians might think about those decisions.

"They have a very strong view that there does need to be change in the law to make sure that this type of situation - a tragedy like this - doesn't happen again without anybody being called to account.

"When you've got organisations that do something that result in deaths like this, that result in negligence, we've got to have a means or a mechanism that we can call people to account who do things wrong.

"I know the police and the Crown Law office referred to the 'one year and one day' rule - other jurisdictions have repealed that so we should have a look at that - but I think there is also scope to look at a broader corporate manslaughter law."

The year-and-a-day rule refers to section 162 of the Crimes Act, under which no-one can be held criminally responsible for a death that occurs more than a year and day after an act that contributed to the person dying.

The government was advised to abolish the rule in 1991.

This article was originally published by RNZ.

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