In R v Kovvali, an appeal by a doctor found guilty of manslaughter by failing to notice symptoms of severe diabetes in a patient has been rejected by the Court of Appeal. Are sentences imposed for gross negligence manslaughter too severe and should the test for a finding of gross negligence be tightened? GCN's David Campion was interviewed for Lexis Nexis Current Awareness where he discussed the issues.

"This case is another reminder that the ultimate sanction for a medical practitioner, if they depart seriously from the expected standards of professional practice, is criminal liability and imprisonment. In the present case the defendant pleaded guilty only at a late stage. Medical practitioners should be mindful that any criminal conviction can trigger a referral to a regulatory body, such as the General Medical Council, who may consider that a guilty plea entered at the first reasonable opportunity is indicative of greater insight than one entered late on. Further, a conviction of gross negligence would generally be admissible in civil proceedings as proof that a medical practitioner had committed that offence, under the Civil Evidence Act 1968, s 11."

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"Although the ordinary principles of negligence apply to ascertain whether a defendant has been in breach of a duty of care, the line between negligence and gross negligence is not clearly demarcated. In accordance with R v Adomako [1995] 1 AC 171, [1994] 3 All ER 79 the offence requires the conduct of the defendant to be ‘so bad in all the circumstances’ as to amount to a criminal act or omission. The test does not distinguish between one-off errors and a deliberate disregard for practice and procedure. The test is predicated, to a large degree, on a subjective and intangible concept of moral blameworthiness."

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"There appears to have been an increase in prosecutions against medical professionals in the last few decades, along with an increased recognition of the offence. In view of the increase in prosecutions, the vagueness of the test for gross negligence and the inherent risks of causing unintentional death in medical practice, many argue that the law should be reformed to demand evidence of a higher degree of culpability for a conviction."

David Campion specialises in employment, personal injury and professional regulatory work.

Quick links

The full article can be found on under Current Awareness on the Lexis Nexis network (subscription only)

LNB News 18/06/2013 9 "Manslaughter by gross negligence in a medical context".

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