24 Jun 2015

Ministers at odds over corporate manslaughter

6:33 pm on 24 June 2015

Despite wanting tougher sanctions against companies responsible for workplace deaths, government ministers appear at odds over introducing a corporate manslaughter offence.

Michael Woodhouse

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse (file) Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

Justice Minister Amy Adams has ruled out corporate manslaughter being included in the Crimes Act, saying it is more appropriately dealt with by new health and safety legislation.

But her colleague Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said she did not mean adding the offence to the health and safety legislation.

"She was saying that she didn't see a place for corporate manslaughter in the Criminal Act and it should be handled, any prosecution that's under health and safety that involves death should be handled, under the health and safety legislation.

"I think it's a step further to say that there should be a corporate manslaughter charge in the health and safety legislation," Mr Joyce said.

But Ms Adams appeared to say something different to reporters this afternoon.

"Manslaughter is a term within the homicide framework. I don't believe it does fit appropriately in that framework. Putting it in the health and safety legislation makes it quite clear that it's quite separate from the homicide framework under the Crimes Act.

"I've ruled that out but I do think there's a case to ensure that corporations are held to account under health and safety legislation," she said.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse said he was considering the matter but there were already sanctions in the Health and Safety Reform Bill.

"I think what we have is a legislation now and we will have in the future where the scale of offending is able to be addressed within the bill already.

"There's a range of sanctions. In the bill, it could be up to $600,000 fine and up to five years in jail for failure to take practicable steps to keep people safe.

"If the consequences of that are death then clearly a court is going to take that into account at sentencing," Mr Woodhouse said.

Labour Party labour spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway said the Government was already watering down its health and safety legislation.

Mr Lees-Galloway said, if it were serious about corporate manslaughter, it would have included it in the bill to allow it to be considered by the select committee.

"The fact that it's been thrown in now does raise suspicions about whether it's a distraction from the other changes that are being proposed to the Health and Safety Reform Bill," he said.

"Or, indeed, whether this was something which has caught the Prime Minister and the Minister for Workplace Relations off guard with the Justice Minister going public on something which clearly hasn't been signed off by Cabinet yet."

Mr Lees-Galloway said corporate manslaughter would apply after a death but it was more important to strengthen health and safety legislation to help prevent deaths and injuries in the first place.

But Mr Woodhouse said the bill was not being watered down and he was confident that once it became law it would provide strong safeguards.

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