Note Cases of “Rush to Judgment”
October 18, 2006, Alexandria, VA — The Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), the Royal Aeronautical Society in England (RAeS) and the Academie Nationale de L’Air et de L’Espace (ANAE) in France today issued an unprecedented joint resolution decrying the increasing tendency of law enforcement and judicial authorities to attempt to criminalize aviation accidents, to the detrimentof aviation safety.
“We are increasingly alarmed that the focus of governments in the wake of accidents is to conduct lengthy, expensive, and highly disruptive criminal investigations in an attempt to exact punishment, instead of ensuring the free flow of information to understand what happened and why, and prevent recurrence of the tragedy,” said Bill Voss, FSF President and CEO.
“The aviation industry is the most labor-intensive safety operation in the world, and human error is a rare but inevitable factor in the safety chain. Prosecuting basic human error is a grave mistake, as punishment should be reserved for those who are breaking the law,” commented Alexander ter Kuile, Secretary General of CANSO.
“Authorities should be focusing on gathering all the facts and evidence from those involved,” said Keith Mans, RAeS President, “and encouraging pilots, air traffic controllers, mechanics, design engineers, managerial officers, and safety regulatory officials to come forward and admit any mistakes without fear of retribution.”
“There exist many civil and administrative mechanisms to deal with any violation of aviation standards, without resort to criminal sanctions,” said Jean-Claude Buck, President of ANAE.
The safety organizations noted several recent, high-profile examples of this trend, including the ongoing investigation of the recent Embraer/Gol midair collision in Brazil, a recent French Supreme Court decision not to dismiss criminal charges stemming from the July 2000 Air France Concorde crash, an imminent verdict in the criminal trial following the 1992 Air-Inter crash in Strasbourg, France, of government, airline, and manufacturing officials, and the pursuit of criminal manslaughter charges against a number of air traffic controllers and managers of Skyguide in Switzerland in connection with the DHL/Bashkirian midair collision over southern Germany in 2002. The joint resolution makes five main points:
- Declares that the paramount consideration in an investigation should be to determine the probable cause of the accident and contributing factors, not to criminally punish individuals.
- Declares that, absent acts of sabotage and willful or particularly egregious reckless conduct, criminalization of an accident is not an effective deterrent or in the public’s best interest.
- Urges States to exercise far greater restraint and adopt stricter guidelines before officials initiate investigations or bring criminal prosecutions in the wake of aviation disasters.
- Urges States to safeguard the safety investigation report and probable cause/contributing factors conclusions from premature disclosure and direct use in civil and criminal proceedings. It also criticized prosecutorial use of relatively untrained and inexperienced “experts,” which can lead to “technically flawed analyses, a miscarriage of justice, and interference with official accident inquiries.”
- Urges accident investigating authorities to assert strong control over the investigation, free from undue interference from law enforcement, invite international cooperation in the investigation, conduct investigations deliberately and avoid a “rush to judgment,” ensure the free flow of essential safety information, and address swiftly any acts or omissions in violation of aviation standards.
Flight Safety Foundation is an independent, non-profit, international organization engaged in research, auditing, education, advocacy and publishing to improve aviation safety. The Foundation’s mission is to pursue the continuous improvement of global aviation safety and the prevention of accidents. www.flightsafety.org
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