8 Jul 2013

Pike family lawyer supports idea of corporate manslaughter

2:16 pm on 8 July 2013

The lawyer for some of the Pike River families, Grant Cameron, is supporting a call for a corporate manslaughter charge, but Business New Zealand says it is not needed.

In the wake of the Pike River mine disaster, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union has urged a law change introducing the charge, as well as personal liability for directors.

The Government is considering a corporate manslaughter charge, but Mr Cameron says governments and corporations are generally resistant, because they would face big penalties in the event of tragedies like Pike River.

But he says it would prevent companies avoiding accountability.

Business New Zealand spokesperson Paul McKay says the Royal Commission on the disaster also supported a corporate manslaughter charge - but the independent taskforce that reviewed the disaster recommended extending current manslaughter laws to make individuals within companies culpable, and that's also the view of Business New Zealand.

"We'd be supportive of the idea that if you could show that a person, perhaps in governance level of the organisation caused a death, then it would be appropriate to look at the possibility of a manslaughter charge against the person."

Mr McKay says charging a corporate entity is in some ways more symbolic than real.

Call for government compensation

Mr Cameron says the failure of the Department of Labour to do its job properly led to the unsafe environment in which 29 men were killed, and the Government should provide compensation.

The receivers for Pike River Coal Ltd say there are insufficient funds to cover court-ordered reparation of $110,000 to each of the victims' families and the two survivors.

Mr Cameron, hopes an arrangement can be reached with the Government.

"There are difficult and tortuous legal processes which would be very, very distressing to families and survivors,"he says. "The Crown has shown a willingness to avoid those sorts of processes in the past and there seems no good reason why the parties can't reach a sensible procedure."

Mr Cameron also represented the families of those killed in the Cave Creek viewing platform collapse in 1995, and says there are strong parallels between the two cases.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has also said the Government must ensure adequate compensation is provided and at least $250,000 should be given to each of the families and the two survivors.

The Prime Minister's office says it would be premature to speculate about compensation while some matters are still before the courts.