This paper analyses various landmark criminal cases in the Netherlands that saw individual professionals being blamed for allegedly contributing to safety-critical events occurring in the past twenty years. These cases can be seen as symbolizing an increasingly risk-averse society whose expectations of human capacity for securing safety have reached unprecedented levels. In this view, punishing professionals who make dangerous mistakes serves to re-establish the illusion of being in control and to satisfy emotions. In practice, however, the prosecution of professional error appears to be somewhat out of touch with public sentiment, as responses to the cases discussed revealed little public support and a backlash among professionals. Moreover, safety science and practice claim that punishing individual error tends to undermine safety and overemphasizes the role of individual error compared to systemic failures. This begs the question of whether criminal liability should be imposed at the system level, as recently happened when local governments were sentenced following fatalities on dangerous road spots. Sentencing ‘system administrators’ may have advantages, but probably produces negative effects as well. Therefore, it would be ideal if administrators reduced the need for resorting to criminal law by proactively and generously taking responsibility for their organisation’s share in accidents.

Additional Metadata
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.5553/Bk/092733872018027001002, hdl.handle.net/1765/111044
Journal Bestuurskunde
Citation
Kortleven, W-J. (2018). Verantwoordelijkheid, veiligheid en strafrecht: Over het bestraffen van feilbaarheid. Bestuurskunde, 27(1), 8–20. doi:10.5553/Bk/092733872018027001002