Gross Negligence Manslaughter and the work of the CPS

Working in partnership with the Special Crime and Counter Terror Division within the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Dr Danielle Griffiths has conducted research on the use of gross negligence manslaughter against healthcare professionals. There has been concern about an apparent increase of investigations and prosecutions over the past two decades which has generated considerable disquiet amongst health care professionals. Whilst such cases remain relatively rare, the fact that there have been four manslaughter cases involving health care professionals reaching the Court of Appeal in the past three years reflects the continued uncertainty about key questions of criminal law and process. 

Griffiths’ work contains the most accurate data published to date in relation to the number of GNM investigations and prosecutions and the main findings include: 

  • the vast majority of cases referred to the CPS are not prosecuted (approx. 6% 2007-2018). Such findings show that fears among the healthcare profession that there is over-prosecution are unfounded.
  • these cases do take considerable amount of time (an average of 17 months for Full Code Test decisions). The analysis of case files identified multiplied reasons for such delays and ways they can be reduced.
  • other issues identified included inconsistent application of the law. 

These findings led to a number of recommendations in order to improve the handling of such cases, including: improved police training; consistency in the use of the term Gross Negligence Manslaughter (GNM); standardisation of instruction letters and more specific offence guidance. The report from the project was published in 2019: Griffiths, Danielle and Quick, Oliver (2019) Managing medical manslaughter cases: improving efficiency and transparency. University of Bristol Law Research Paper Series. 

The research has helped the CPS improve their guidance in this area. For example, CPS legal guidance on GNM published in March 2019 recognises that investigating police officers are often unfamiliar with this area of law and need early advice from the CPS.   

The research has also influenced the work of various organisations including General Medical Council (GMC) and the Hospital Specialist and Consultant Association, and has been presented to various medical communities including the Royal College of Physicians. Dr Griffiths’ work actively informed and influenced the Independent review of gross negligence manslaughter which was published in June 2019 and contained  a number of recommendations for organisations including the police, coroners and healthcare organisations.