Introduction

A new corporate manslaughter law has caused commotion among tour operators in the UK. Lawyers argue about the fact whether tour operators can be prosecuted for deaths abroad. The corporate manslaughter act became a law in April 2008 and should make it easier to convict companies whose managers refuse their duty of care. The explanation of the law makes it unclear whether a decision made in the UK could be considered to have caused damage during people’s holiday abroad.

Original article by Rupert Murray (June 6, 2008)

Essay by Renske Bijl
Master in Tourism Destination Management student 2008/2009

Lawyers argue whether a new corporate manslaughter law means that tour operators in the UK will be responsible for deaths of tourists overseas. The corporate manslaughter act became a law in April 2008 and should make it easier to convict companies whose managers refuse their duty of care. Courts will consider failures of health and safety legislation in determining liability. The explanation of the law makes it unclear whether a decision made in the UK could be considered to have caused damage during people’s holiday abroad.

The content of the law could be interpreted in two different ways. K&L Gates lawyers assume that tour operators could potentially face prosecution in the UK if a client died overseas. An operator could be at risk of prosecution if a decision made in the UK was careless and led to the accident overseas. For example when a hotel has serious fire safety issues and guests even pointed out the risks to the tour operator. According to K&L Gates the law does not require physical harm, it could be caused by a reckless action in the UK.

Field Fisher Waterhouse on the other hand, believes that the position for outbound tour operators in the UK has improved under the new act. In their opinion tour operators in the UK working with overseas operations cannot be held responsible for deaths.  Tour operators were advised to be too careful rather than take a risk, so to make sure that they have good legal advice, the correct insurance cover, identify risk areas and ensure that health and safety procedures are up to date.
According to the Institute of Travel and Tourism the new law is potentially the most serious issue facing the travel industry. People do not realize what it brings about if companies are going to be held liable.

The issue of the liability of tour operators in the UK will come under new examination in October. In my opinion the management of organizations should be accountable for health and safety failures, whether overseas or not. If people at the top of companies would have been made responsible, a lot of tragedies could have been prevented. I believe, however, that it is complicated to determine when an organization failed its duty.

To conclude, I think that the corporate manslaughter law encourages tour operators to take better care of health and safety issues. The focus on these issues will be even more stimulated because the reputation of organizations will play an important role when the management will be held responsible. The article ‘Safety and security issues in tourism’ in the book Tourism Management Dynamics claims that health concerns are one of the major threats to tourist safety and security and therefore it is important that management of tour operators focuses on these issues.