When considering corporate liability prosecutions brought by the Crown Prosecution Service, it is often the most serious offences that may come to mind, such as corporate manslaughter and homicide. However, as crime solicitor Michelle Ranns explains, there are a number of specialist agencies who wield the power to prosecute under their own statutory frameworks, including the Serious Fraud Office, HMRC and Health and Safety Executive.
These agencies investigate the manner in which companies operate and ensure that domestic and European laws are being complied with.
The aim of legislation and the role of agencies are to act as a deterrent to other companies, to protect the public from harm, and to support ethical business practices.
When considering any type of corporate liability prosecution, there are a number of factors that the agency must take into account. One of these is whether it is in the public interest to proceed with any prosecution. Public interest factors that favour prosecution may include whether there is a history of similar conduct and this will include prior criminal, civil and regulatory enforcement action. The agencies will consider when the offence was committed and if it was at a time when the company had ineffective regulations and rules in place.
Agencies may visit businesses with the outcome being advice and direction on how to improve business practices. In these cases, the agency will expect to see a positive change where guidance has been provided. This is a further factor when considering whether to prosecute, especially if positive changes have not been made and the company has previously been subject to warnings, sanctions or criminal charges, and has nonetheless failed to take adequate action.
Conversely, prosecution may be avoided where companies take a genuine proactive approach when offending is brought to their notice and effective remedial action is taken. Therefore, it is important to have a practical and effective compliance programme.
It is important to protect your business, your income and yourself and to make sure you have robust business practices in place which will help you to avoid any such prosecutions. However, many fall foul of the complex legislation, rules and regulations within business and/or their industry. If you are approached by any agency who wishes to speak to you about any possible offence, then it is important to obtain appropriate advice before speaking to them. They may approach you to speak informally but it is important to bear in mind that any information disclosed in an informal chat could lead to more serious repercussions. Always seek to rearrange appointments in order for you to seek legal advice beforehand.
For further information, please contact Milton Keynes crime and regulatory assistant solicitor Michelle Ranns on 01908 202150