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R v Bateman (1925) 19 Cr App R 8

Whether level of negligence amounted to gross negligence to warrant criminal liability.

Facts

A qualified medical practitioner was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter arising out of the delivery of a patient in child birth, Ms. Harding. During the delivery of her child, the doctor eventually resorted to an operation which required ‘considerable force.’ The delivered child was dead. During the operation, the doctor accidentally removed a portion of Ms. Harding’s uterus. Initially refusing to do so, the doctor eventually transferred Ms. Harding to an infirmary where she was found unfit to undergo an operation and died two days later. A post mortem examination revealed various internal ruptures and substantial removal of the uterus.

Issue

The issue concerned the criminal liability of the doctor for the death of Ms. Harding due to the internal ruptures, substantial removal of the uterus, and delay in admitting her to an infirmary. The appeal considered whether the jury’s instructions concerning the level of negligence warranting criminal liability for manslaughter.

Held

The Court held that in order to establish criminal liability for manslaughter by negligence, it must be proven that (1) the doctor owed a duty of care to his patient, (2) this duty was not discharged, (3) this failure to discharge his duty caused the death, and, (4) a gross level of negligence to satisfy the mens rea element of the crime. In doing so, the Court distinguished between civil liability warranting compensation pursuant to an assessment of the damage and criminal liability which requires mens rea concerning the degree of negligence. Considering this distinction between negligence giving rise to compensation and negligence constituting a crime, the Court of Appeal found the judge in first instance misdirected the jury and quashed the guilty verdict.


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