Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS have been charged with corporate manslaughter following the tragic death of a mother during an emergency Caesarean. A legal first for the NHS, the foundation now awaits trial under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. Never before has a public entity faced prosecution under the law.
Why was the act introduced?
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act was introduced as a way of holding organisations accountable where there serious health and safety failings are believed to have resulted in an individual’s death. Intended to level the playing field between public and private sector entities, the offence allows charges to be pursued against organisations based on public interest factors.
Unlike charges of gross negligence manslaughter which allows a conviction to be brought against the individual, corporate manslaughter holds the organisation accountable focusing on those responsible for the operational running of the company, in this case the senior management of the NHS trust.
The management of the NHS’s activities will formulate the focal point of the investigation, as the prosecution must prove beyond responsible doubt that a gross breach of duty resulted in the death of the victim. Management decisions relating to the employment, training and management of NHS staff will face particular scrutiny.
What are the implications for the NHS?
For the NHS, a conviction would leave them liable to an unlimited fine applied at the judge’s discretion. Precedent in this area is relatively under developed with previous successful prosecutions mainly involving small, independent organisations.
The courts may also decide to impose a Remedial Order, requiring Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust to address the cause of fatality. In this case, the internal structures and training procedures that allowed members of staff to fall below the excepted standard of care. The Act also allows for a publicity order to be enforced, requiring the NHS to publicise details of their conviction.
Two doctors involved in the Caesarean, Dr Errol Cornish and Dr Nadeem Azeez also face individual charges of gross negligence manslaughter. Their prosecution will remain separate from the trial.
For companies facing corporate manslaughter charges, it is vital they contact an experienced solicitor who specialises in serious crime and criminal defence. Although prosecutions are brought against the organisation, for smaller firms this may leave individuals liable where they are the sole director. Charges involving gross negligence or serious breaches of health and safety protocols require effective and strong defence strategies to secure the best possible chance of acquittal.
For more information on the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, or to secure clear, reasoned legal advice from a corporate manslaughter defence solicitor contact Farleys today on 0845 050 1958. Alternatively please complete an online enquiry form.