How gross negligence manslaughter investigations start

These cases of course begin with an unintended death or deaths. When the police, the Health and Safety Executive or other regulator initially assesses the circumstances, a criminal investigation may begin where it appears that mistakes were made by people with a duty to help. This could include managers, health professionals, or anyone who had a duty of care to the deceased (duty of care means a duty to look after the person). The person with a duty of care will be treated as a suspect once there is a criminal investigation and should obtain specialist legal advice immediately.

Crime Scene Do Not Cross tape

The Law

The offence of gross negligence manslaughter is made up of three major parts. Each of these parts needs to be proved for the prosecution to prove a case in court.

They are:

  1. The defendant(s) owed a duty to take care of the deceased

  2. The defendant(s) failed in that duty to an extreme and criminal extent

  3. That failure caused the death or deaths

1 - The defendant owed a duty to take care

This means that there was some link between the defendant and the deceased which meant that the defendant had to look after the deceased. This is called a ‘duty of care'. This link could be as a parent, carer or babysitter who is required to take acts of a child, the duty of a business or employee to keep his or her customers safe from injury or danger, or the duty of a healthcare professional to care for a patient. This will be a question for the jury to interpret. If the person being investigated was part of an employed team at the time of the incident, it may be that the specific duty to take care of whatever led to the death was actually somebody else's responsibility. So, for example, a forklift driver who does not check that the forklift is working properly, and crashes into a colleague killing him might not be guilty if a safety officer on the site was actually responsible for organising daily checks on equipment.

2 - The defendant failed in that duty to a criminal extent

A person with a duty of care fails in that duty if they do it take enough care to look after the person they have that duty to. This means doing something that an everyday person would regard as potentially dangerous or risky. If the person is a professional in a specific career, then the accepted standards of people working in that career will be the guide of whether the duty of care has been failed or breached.

With the offence of Gross Negligence Manslaughter, the failure in the duty of care has to be so severe or extreme that the jury regard it as criminal. This means that simply making a mistake anybody might make, even on a bad day, is not manslaughter. The mistake or failure has to be so severe and be so irresponsible that it should be considered criminal. This level of mistake is called gross negligence. If it is not, the jury cannot convict.

3 - The failure caused the death or deaths

The failure in the duty of care has to be a substantial cause of the death for it to be manslaughter. It does not have to be the only cause.

Strategy in Gross Negligence Manslaughter Cases

There is no one specific way to win these cases, but it is clear that in any case involving a business, organisation or professionals of any kind it is essential that the legal team fully understand the practices in place, including who was responsible for different tasks, and what the expected practices were and whether appropriate training and systems were provided to prevent accidents. Every aspect of the working of the organisation relevant to the accident and the client's place within it must be considered. If necessary, industry or technical experts should be brought in by the defence to comment on the standards and expectations for safety.

Criminal or corporate lawyers?

Manslaughter is a serious criminal offence, and clients should be wary of assuming that a civil or regulatory lawyer has the years of criminal experience required to defend the case successfully. The best approach is to retain a specialist in serious criminal defence, and specifically in fatal criminal cases.

Interviews under caution

As soon as an interview under caution is mentioned, nothing should be said without a specialist gross negligence manslaughter solicitor present. The person to be interviewed will often still be in shock, and without the right legal guidance and protection, could without realising say something during the interview that leads to his or her inevitable conviction.

If you or a family member are worried about an investigation or prosecution for gross negligence manslaughter, please call us and speak to one of our specialist gross negligence manslaughter solicitors throughout the UK. We are always happy to talk. For Corporate Manslaughter investigations and prosecutions against people click here.