Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Corporate Manslaughter and the Lords

Depressingly its often the Lords that seem to be defending civil liberties, calling for safeguards and standing up to attacks on anti discrimination laws .

The latest example is this

Peers have voted to extend the planned corporate manslaughter law to include deaths in prisons and police cells - defeating the government.
The new offence would apply when a person's death is caused by company negligence. The government wants to exclude prisons and police

The ex-chief inspector of prisons Lord Ramsbotham had argued for no exemption.

Lord Ramsbotham had highlighted several cases where people had died in custody, saying that managers at all levels would have taken greater care over their responsibilities if they knew they could face a charge of corporate manslaughter.

Even the Tories, who have also come out against ID cards, are in favour of an extension:

Speaking after the Lords vote on Monday, Conservative Lord Hunt, who voted to extend the bill, said Tory MPs will also seek to defeat the government.
"The essential question is whether or not the prison service, and other public bodies detaining individuals in custody, owe a clearly defined, legally enforceable, corporate duty of care to those individuals.
"Of course they do; they must."

There are reasons why this law may be needed even more in a prison or police cell. We lock up some of the most vulnerable in society , yet the government does not want to afford them the limited protection of the law.I would argue many should not be there and should be receiving treatment and support rather than incaceration. The reality is that they are in our police cells and prisons and they need this law to apply to them.

Some figures around vulnerability and risks to people in prison are produced by Inquest who campaign around death in prison and custody .Their work highlights the need for accountability . This needs to include lack of care and support that results in people taking their own lives, including children.

Government figures show that :

  • between 2003-2004 there were 93 suicides in prison.
  • 72% of men and 70% of women sentenced prisoners have two or more 'mental health disorders' (terminology used by the report and syrvey).
  • 95% of young prisoners aged 15-21 have one 'mental health disorder'

Inquest have released a press statement calling for no exemptions . It states that between 1996-2006 there were 560 deaths in police custody and 1644 deaths in police cells. see the websiote for more details on figures. Where neglience is a factor then the authorities should be accountable and face criminal charges where appropriate. Many on prison and police cells have not been to trial and will not be guilty.

The government wants to build more prisons and increasingly involve the private sector. Without an extension to cover these services this leaves many vulnerable, and not so vulnerable people, without the limited safeguards of the Corporate Manslaughter Bill.

I am highlighting the vulnerable but all prisoners should be covered by this. What excuse can there be for negliegence for any group, however unpopular with middle England .

Of course the real issue is whether prison is the right place for some of these vulnerable people and does it help them . In that over used phrase , is it fit for purpose and what exactly is the purpose ?