Police Forces, Prisons and youth detention centres in Britain will now face prosecution for “corporate homicide” if an individual dies in their custody as new laws comes into effect starting today.
It has been praised as a major step forward for campaigners who have been calling for greater accountability over deaths while in the care of state institutions.
Between 1999 and 2009, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has revealed that 333 people have died in or following police custody.
But until September 1, following the introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007, no police or prison officer has been successfully prosecuted.
Under the new law, prosecutions will take place if it can be proved that the way the facilities – prison custody suites, prison cells, mental health detention centres and immigration suites – are managed or organised caused a death amounting to a breach in their duty of care.
Deaths of people being transported to and from immigration detention centres will also be covered by the Corporate Homicide Act.
But in the case of Jimmy Mubenga, who died while being restrained on a British Airways plane to Angola last year, the private firm hired to transport him cannot be prosecuted under the Act because the law is not retrospective.
Helen Shaw, co-director of Inquest, a charity that works with the families of those who die in custody, said: “While not all deaths are a result of grossly negligent management failings that would lead to consideration of a corporate manslaughter prosecution many of Inquest’s cases have revealed a catalogue of failings in the treatment and care of vulnerable people in custody and raised issues of negligence, management failings and failures in the duty of care.
“The new provisions provide a new avenue to address these problems and will hopefully have a deterrent effect, preventing future deaths.
“We also welcome the government’s decision to extend these ‘corporate” manslaughter provisions to the UK Border Agency … this is a positive step towards greater accountability.”
As well as unlimited fines that could run into the millions, courts will be granted powers to order convicted companies or organisations to publish the details of the charges against them.