07 November 2012

Why no prosecution of the Pike River Coal Ltd Directors?

I was not going to comment on the Report of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Disaster but I here I go.

Duncan Garner of TV3 describes the Pike River Coal disaster as corporate, Government and departmental manslaughter

John Armstrong of the Herald says the Royal Comission gave the Department of Labour (the former department responsible for employment health and safety a right royal bollocking.

Fairfax says the report is a damning indictment and that cost cutting trumped health and safety.

The Royal Commission concludes that the board of directors completely failed in their governance role over the Pike River Coal Mine Limited. The Commission rejected Board Chair John Dow's testimony that "no safety concerns were reported to me". I can't argue with that.

So why didn't the Department of Labour 'lay an information' (thats the term in most NZ legislation for 'indict') for a prosecution against the Directors when they filed the informations against Peter Whittal, Pike River Coal Limited (in receivership) and the subcontracting drilling company?

The Health Safety and Employment Act 1992 defines the unsafe workplace offences in Section 49 and Section 50.

The HS & E Act offences are criminal offences as a prison sentence is one of the possible consequences of conviction under Section 49(3)(a).

The two sections state explicitly that 'any person' can be prosecuted. 'Any person' includes directors of companies. Like the Resource Management Act, the offences are 'strict liability'; intention does not have to be proven. Lack of reasonable action to prevent reasonably foreseeable accidents makes the directors worth prosecuting.

However, it's too late now to prosecute the directors. There is a statutory time limit for laying informations/prosecuting in Section 54B and it's six months from the date of the event. That is now a long time ago.

So John "See no evil hear no evil" Dow and his fellow directors are off the hook from any criminal prosecution under the Health Safety and Employment Act.

So that is another major failure of the Department of Labour that has not been reported on in the media flurry so far.

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