Judges rule on proper test for negligence

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The Independent Online
MISTAKES made by people while carrying out their professional duties are less likely to end in prosecution for manslaughter as a result of a Court of Appeal decision yesterday, writes Ngaio Crequer.

Lord Taylor, Lord Chief Justice, Mr Justice Henry and Mr Justice Blofeld, examined the question of gross negligence when applied to professional duties. At issue was whether gross negligence could lead to manslaughter charges.

The judges considered three appeals against convictions for manslaughter. Two concerned doctors who administered treatment and the third an electrician who wired up a central heating system.

They allowed appeals by Dr Michael Prentice and Dr Barry Sullman against their conviction for manslaughter in November 1991, after a 16-year-old leukaemia patient died when given a wrong injection.

They also allowed an appeal by Stephen Holloway, an electrician convicted in 1990 after a man was electrocuted in a house where he had been working. But the judges dismissed an appeal by Dr John Adomako, convicted in 1990 after the death of a patient being treated for an eye operation.

The court said the proper test was now one of gross negligence. Judges should direct juries to consider: indifference to an obvious risk of injury to health; foresight of the risk; and inattention or failure to avert a serious risk beyond 'mere advertence'.

Law report, page 26