Corporate Manslaughter And The Rule Of Law
Our television channels broadcast, with increasing frequency, incidents where people are killed in situations where the safety of the people is directly or indirectly the responsibility of the police, government agencies, government corporations or other large companies. The most recent incident is that of oil tanker accident in which hundreds of people died as a result of burns. The Karachi garment factory fire in 2015 is another example. There are thousands of such incidents in the past, reported or unreported, where the lives of innocent people have been lost and their families are left without adequate relief. It has become common practice that instead of fixing responsibility for negligence or incompetence, the Prime Minister or Chief Ministers announce compensation for the death and for injuries. This amount has now gone beyond ten lacs for death. The relief is announced by them as if they are monarchs and are showing compassion and mercy for the victims. We seldom notice that such acts of magnanimity and glorified generosity are being undertaken at our expense, out of the taxes we have paid. The money is given out of the taxes paid by the citizens, who are victims at both ends: as victims of such destructive incidents and as victims of arbitrary and unjustified compensation; the compensation paid is not from the personal funds of the monarchs; namely, the PM and CMs. And all this while, the persons who are guilty of negligence and incompetence go scot-free. These may be the civil servants including police and security personnel responsible for the safety and security of the masses. The incidents can be enumerated in unending lists. The law of torts is almost dead due to the lethargy of the legal profession and due to the protection that is given to institutions for tort liability. This is resulting in gross injustice. Someone must be held directly accountable and responsible and that someone must pay.
To deal with such situations, corporate manslaughter has become a well-known concept in the developed world, especially in the UK which has introduced the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Unfortunately, the legal system of our country, though it has many laws dealing with corporations, their employees and workplace safety, still does not provide an adequate remedy to the poor victims of incidents where government agencies and corporations are the direct or indirect cause of the fatal incidents.
What is corporate manslaughter? It is an act of homicide committed by a corporation or any agency or organization when the cause of death can be attributed to a direct or indirect negligent act of such a body. It is thus a criminal offence committed by a juristic person, for which the new law in the UK (the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007) provides punishment in form of fine for the criminal offence. The judge can impose an unlimited fine if the corporation is found guilty. Law treats such a legal person equivalent to a natural person, therefore, it can be convicted for a loss of life of an individual. The term corporation as used in the Act includes government bodies and institutions.
In our case, the existing Islamic law can provide the solution. Islamic law is usually criticized for various reasons, but in the present case, it offers a solution that cannot be matched by the UK law. The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) provides for the payment of diyat and other types of compensation where life and limb are destroyed. Diyat has to be paid and the question of negligence does not arise. The only thing to be shown is causation, whether direct or indirect. The definition of “person” in the PPC is wide enough to include all corporations and government departments.
In short, someone has to pay the compensation when death is not due to natural causes or when death cannot be justified. All payments in form of compensation and diyat made to the victims must go from the salaries of the entire department or corporation by assigning collective responsibility. In the case of private corporations, the company is held responsible for the payment of diyat. In the case of the Police and civil servants responsible for the security and safety of citizens in the area where the disaster has occurred, the diyat must go from their salaries.
We do not need to introduce a new law for this purpose. Section 11 of Pakistan Penal Code defines the term “person” as follows: “The word ‘person’ includes any Company or Association, or body of persons whether incorporated or not.” All government companies are included as they are corporations and cannot be exempted under Islamic law. The offences falling under qatl-i-khata’ and qatl-bis-sabab under sections 318 and 321 PPC respectively, do not need mens rea as they are strict liability offences. There is also no need to show a breach of some duty or gross negligence. All that is needed is to prove a causal link between death and the act of the corporation through any of its employees. The defendants will be all the officers of the corporation, that is, the CEO, directors and company secretary. In short, there is no real need for amendment in the law, but the state may make a suitable addition to show that henceforth corporations will be liable under these sections. There are other sections that may be used for other injuries. The value of the blood money for one person is 30,630 grams of silver, which at today’s rate is not more than US $18,000, which is the rough equivalent of two million Pakistani rupees. It is, therefore, not left to the discretion of any person to decide the amount of compensation. It has already been fixed by the law.
 For further details see authors’ articles, “Failure of Tort Law in Pakistan,” “Abolition of the Doctrines of Champerty and Maintenance in Pakistan,” and “Decriminalizing Defamation in Pakistan.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.