Mark Thomas wants to see the Queen in court

The aristocracy need only worry about gout, syphilis and falling off polo ponies - industrial accide

Knee problems aside, Elizabeth Windsor doesn't have to worry much about industrial accidents in her job. OK, there is the possibility of repetitive strain injury, what with the constant waving; and it certainly looks as if protective goggles would be needed when dining in the immediate vicinity of Prince Philip. But other than that, Mrs Windsor has nothing to moan about - except, maybe, that one or two of her predecessors in the job suffered the social stigma of beheading.

Generally, the only health and safety issues the aristocracy can expect to confront are gout, syphilis and falling off polo ponies. Industrial accidents are what happen to the servants who, along with normal safety issues, have to beware of blunderbusses, dead pheasants falling on them and discarded royal lubricants.

Fortunately for Mrs Windsor, there is a legal nicety called "crown immunity". It means that the crown can't prosecute the crown: crown bodies - such as prisons, government departments and police - avoid prosecution for such offences as corporate manslaughter.

Not for long, though. A legal opinion from Matrix Churchill undertaken for the Centre for Corporate Accountability says that any reform of the law of manslaughter must apply to all employing organisations , including crown bodies. If it doesn't, the government could face prosecution under the European Convention on Human Rights. In short, crown immunity should be abolished.

All this depends, however, on one thing. Tony Blair and the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, have first to decide that they want to change the law of corporate manslaughter and create a law that would benefit working people (which is about as likely as the Queen appearing on Stars in Their Eyes . . . cue squeaky, posh voice uttering the words: "Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be Eminem").

Far from quaking in her boots, Mrs Windsor has only to cast her mind back to her recent speech, which ominously failed to mention a change in the law.

Roughly 250 people are killed at work each year, but the current law makes prosecution extremely difficult. Blunkett himself noted the "law's lack of success in convicting companies of manslaughter where a death has occurred due to gross negligence by the organisation as a whole". He went on to say that any change should "bite properly on large corporations whose failure to set or maintain standards causes a death".

Yet despite this, and a previous Labour pledge, it is unlikely the new law will introduce "directors' duties", where individual directors can be held responsible for workers' safety and fat-cat "golden handcuffs" are replaced with police ones. Labour's proposed reforms will put only companies in the dock, and they will merely face fines if found guilty. This may be a step forward, but large companies will not be deterred by fines. Corporate safety won't improve until company directors face jail.

Just as we need Blunkett in full "lock 'em up" mode, he wimps out and turns all Lord Longford on us.

After the Queen's Speech, the Home Office issued a press statement saying that it would have "detailed proposals" on the new law of corporate killing by the end of the year. I phoned and asked when. "We haven't got a date yet." Aren't you running out of time? "Yes, I see what you mean. Well, we haven't got a date yet."

Quietly, 3 December came and went, but 19 years ago in Bhopal an explosion at the Union Carbide* plant sent tonnes of methyl isocyanate into the air. Eight thousand people, many of them the poorest on earth, died in the first three days. The final death toll could be as high as 30,000. Thousands still suffer in the contaminated shadow of Union Carbide.

It is fashionable to compare catastrophic events to the World Trade Center in 2001. But Bhopal was not India's retrospective 9/11. If anything, the twin towers were America's 12/3.

The company was warned of the consequences of locating its plant near a heavily populated area. Two years before the explosion, the journalist Rajkumar Keswani warned (in a series of articles) of the possibility of an accident. Shortly before the explosion, safety equipment was dismantled and safety staff and training were cut.

Union Carbide's chief executive officer, Warren Anderson, is still wanted by the Indian government, which sought half-heartedly to extradite him. Strangely, Interpol couldn't find one of the most powerful men in the chemical industry. He wasn't at his address when law-enforcement officers called. It is not clear whether they checked his golf club.

* Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemicals, which refuses to assume UC's environmental and criminal liabilities arising from the Bhopal explosion, despite taking on its asbestos liabilities in Texas

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