Gross Negligence Manslaughter

Gross negligence manslaughter is a serious criminal offence that can be committed by anyone who owes a duty of care to another person and breaches that duty in a way that is grossly negligent that it amounts to a criminal act or omission. This means that the defendant must have acted in a way that was so reckless and careless that it showed a complete disregard for the safety of the other person.

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Gross negligence manslaughter is most commonly seen in cases where healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, have made serious mistakes that have led to the death of a patient. However, it can also be committed in other contexts, such as in the workplace, on the road, or in the home.

What are the elements of gross negligence manslaughter?

In order to prove gross negligence manslaughter, the prosecution must show that:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased;
  • By a negligent act or omission the defendant was in breach of the duty which he owed to the deceased;
  • The negligent act or omission was a cause of the death; and
  • The negligence, which was a cause of the death, amounts to gross negligence and is therefore a crime;

Duty of Care

A duty of care arises when one person has a legal responsibility to take reasonable care to avoid causing harm to another person. This duty of care can arise in a number of different ways, such as through a contract, a relationship of trust and confidence, or simply through the fact that the defendant is in a position where they can reasonably foresee that their actions could cause harm to another person.

Breach of Duty

In order to prove a breach of duty, the prosecution must show that the defendant failed to take the reasonable care that was required of them in the circumstances. This will involve considering the nature of the defendant’s duty of care, the level of risk that they were aware of, and the steps that they could reasonably have taken to avoid the risk.

Criminal Act or Omission

The breach of duty must be so bad that it amounts to a criminal act or omission. This means that the defendant must have acted in a way that was so reckless and careless that it showed a complete disregard for the safety of the other person.


The prosecution must also show that the breach of duty caused the death of the deceased. This does not mean that the defendant must have been the sole cause of death. It is sufficient to show that their breach of duty made a significant contribution to the death.

Examples of Gross Negligence Manslaughter

Some examples of cases that have been prosecuted as gross negligence manslaughter include:

  • A doctor who operates on the wrong patient.
  • A nurse who gives a patient the wrong medication.
  • A builder who fails to take adequate safety precautions on a construction site, resulting in the death of a worker.
  • A driver who falls asleep at the wheel and causes a fatal accident.
  • A parent who leaves a young child unattended in a bath, resulting in the child drowning.

Defences to Gross Negligence Manslaughter

There are a number of defences that can be raised to a charge of gross negligence manslaughter. The most common defences are:

  • Mistake: The defendant made a genuine mistake, but they did not act in a way that was reckless or careless.
  • Sudden emergency: The defendant was acting in a sudden emergency and they did not have time to consider the consequences of their actions.
  • Necessity: The defendant was acting in a way that was necessary to prevent a greater harm from occurring.

Sentencing for Gross Negligence Manslaughter

Gross negligence manslaughter is a serious offence, and the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. However, the sentences that are actually passed vary depending on the circumstances of the case. In some cases, the defendant may be given a suspended prison sentence or even community service.  If you have been arrested or charged with gross negligence manslaughter, it is important to seek legal advice immediately. Richardson Lissack can advise you on your rights and legal options, and we can represent you in court ensuring your rights are protected.

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