The Cambridge Law Journal


The Attribution of Culpability to Limited Companies

G. R. Sullivan*

Legally, it is possible to say of a particular company that it is a party to a criminal conspiracy, that it has acted dishonestly or that its conduct in matters of safety is so deficient as to amount to manslaughter. The mechanism which has brought most serious crimes within the competence of companies to commit is, of course, the concept of corporate alter ego or, more precisely, the doctrine of identification. This concept takes the conduct and state of mind of certain high-ranking officials to be the conduct and state of mind of the company itself, so that it may commit directly crimes which are not attributable to a company merely on a basis of vicarious liability.


* Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Durham. I am much indebted to Tom Allen, Carl Emery, Harvey Teff and Colin Warbrick.