The letter sent yesterday by the Met that the council and Tenant Management Organisation may have committed corporate manslaughter is significant, but bearing in mind what is in the public domain, hardly surprising.
The letter said that the Met had “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the Council and TMO have committed an offence of corporate manslaughter. When the Met has “reasonable grounds” to believe that an offence has been committed by an individual, then that means that they can arrest that individual. However the Met have already ruled out immediate arrests as, in effect, you cannot arrest any individual where an organisation is accused of corporate manslaughter.
This and the fact that no individual from the organisation can be imprisoned has already led to some to call for alternative charges to be pursued such as manslaughter by gross negligence.
Anyone at fault should face the full force of criminal proceedings in the fall out from Grenfell. Individuals lost their lives in the most grotesque way – a result not only of specific failures but, as a result of the abject failure of social housing policy over the decades.
However, the Corporate Manslaughter offence was enacted for circumstances like this. The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 abolished the common offence of manslaughter by gross negligence it its application to corporations and in doing so replaced the “identification principle” with a new offence based on a qualified aggregation approach whereby fault of a number of individuals may be relevant to a management or organisational failure causing death and the organisation can be liable provided that the contribution of senior management is a substantial element in the breach of duty.
In short, corporate manslaughter filled a lacunae in the law whereby the death was caused not by an act or acts of a single identifiable individual but where a series of acts by different individuals in same organisation caused that death and senior management were in breach of their duties.
In many ways, one can see why the Met have indicated that corporate manslaughter is their starting point. Indeed it should be noted that to be guilty, the fault should be for individuals in the same organisation. In this case, responsibilities (and duties) were shared between the council and the Management Organisation. This breaking down of responsibilities in this way was a New Labour flagship policy for council housing. Campaigners at the time, such a Defend Council Housing, warned of the dangers of this break up. Campaigners and lawyers will now need to make sure that this diffusion of responsibility does not lead to an avoidance of liability. Further, contractors and other organisations (according to some reports at least 60 organisations) cannot face accountability.
However welcome this news is, there is much to do, to push for individuals to be prosecuted for gross negligence to push for other organisations to be held to account, for justice to be done – and for an inquiry that will highlight how housing policy needs to change so that we have access to safe sustainable housing.
Raj Chada is a Partner in the Crime Department at HJA and part of the multi-disciplinary team seeking to bring justice for the residents at Grenfell. He is also a former Leader and Housing Executive member at Camden Council. (The next blog will explain Corporate Manslaughter in further detail)