NHS Trust acquitted for corporate manslaughter in landmark ruling

Topics covered: Ridouts professional advice

Justice Coulson has thrown out the case against Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust for corporate manslaughter and the corresponding gross negligence manslaughter case against the doctor involved. The Trust was acquitted following instructions from the judge to the jury to return with a not guilty verdict late yesterday afternoon.

The case involved the death of a 30-year old woman who lost over 2 litres of blood shortly after giving birth. She was operated on under anaesthetic and went into cardiac arrest from which she died.

This was the first prosecution of an NHS Trust on the charge of corporate manslaughter. The Judge called an end to the trial after finding that it would be “unfair and unsafe” to leave the decision to the jury. He held that there was insufficient evidence put forward by the prosecution to find that the Trust or the doctor involved had any case to answer.

The threshold to be met for corporate manslaughter (for corporate bodies) and gross negligence manslaughter (for individuals) is a particularly high one. In particular in relation to corporate manslaughter it must be found that the way that the company’s affairs are managed or organised has caused the death of a person; and this involved a gross breach of a duty of care owed to the deceased.

It would appear now that the case put forward by the Crown Prosecution Service had little demonstrable merit. The case must have been so woefully inadequate that the judge saw no other option than to throw it out. All that seems to remain are the questions that should now be put to the CPS for bringing the case without sufficient evidence to meet the test.

The massive fees that would have amounted in the two week trial and pre-trial hearings could now be paid for by the CPS as the defendants have stated that they may seek costs orders.

The conduct of the Crown Prosecution Service in bringing about this misconceived prosecution is clearly now in the spotlight. This prosecution has arguably done more harm than good to the family of the deceased and some will argue that more care should be taken at pre-trial stage to avoid insufficiently-evidenced cases going through the courts at great public cost.

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