UK airport operators' liability for corporate manslaughter as a result of terrorism: Will security management systems provide protection for the sector?

Corporate governance broadly refers to the mechanisms, relations and processes by which a corporation is controlled and directed; it involves balancing the many interests of a corporation’s stakeholders.1 Since the financial crisis of 2008, much of the literature dealing with corporate governance has focused on the financial welfare of its stakeholders. Following 9/11, however, civil aviation corporations have also had to take account of the physical welfare of their stakeholders when assessing the risks of terrorist attacks. After the recent attacks at Brussels and Istanbul airports, there is little evidence that significant changes have occurred to secure safety in the public areas of airports in the UK, known as ‘landside’,2 leading to the check-in gates. This raises the question of whether, should the risk of terrorist attacks materialise and lead to the death of victims, there can be criminal liability on the part of airport operators. This paper will consider the possibility of one form of criminal liability, corporate manslaughter, for airport operators who operate under a risk assessment model known as security management systems (SeMS). In this paper, the following example will be used to highlight that potential possibility. An airport in the UK has adopted SeMS but the individual senior manager responsible devolves the responsibility of implementation to a junior manager who fails to take additional precautions despite recent intelligence reports that suggest the likely imminence of a Brussels Airport-style attack in the UK. The attack is carried out by an airport employee, who had not been properly vetted due to staff shortages. In the attack 7 members of the public are killed and 50 are injured. The police and owners of the airport assumed all employees had been security vetted. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) considers the liability of the airport operator when it becomes clear the attack could have been prevented.


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  • Accession Number: 01686026
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Oct 29 2018 2:44PM