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Companies as if they mattered

The police are investigating possible crimes at News International committed by the company, not just by a bunch of individuals. It is sometimes claimed that the most effective deterrent to crimes committed while operating a company is the individual prosecution of senior management figures. And of course this is a real deterrent. But the question remains, what of the company itself? Should it go free?

It is of course difficult to prosecute companies for crimes, particularly since a key requirement will be to identify a controlling mind of the company for the alleged offence. But the law was changed recently in the UK to make at least corporate manslaughter easier to prosecute. In contrast the prosecution of companies under civil law is more common, but usually effectively dismissed by management as just a cost of doing business.

The News of the World is claiming that the effect of a prosecution would be catastrophic, causing worldwide licences to be at risk and threatening the whole Murdoch empire. (And that is just a prosecution, not even a conviction – they may, after all, be found innocent.) It is just as well the Crown Prosecution Service does not feel that this is a valid consideration, as otherwise large businesses would be effectively above the law.

And it may also be worthwhile for initiatives such as the Ecocide project to include corporate commission of ecological rights abuses within its remit.

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