R v Bateman (Percy)
Court of Appeal
Citations: (1927) 19 Cr App R 8.
The defendant was a medical practitioner. In the course of delivering a stillborn baby, he accidentally removed part of the woman’s uterus in addition to the placenta and ruptured several of her organs. The woman’s condition began to degrade, but the defendant delayed in sending her to the infirmary. The woman later died.
The defendant was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter. The defendant appealed, saying the judge had wrongly directed the jury that he would be guilty if he had been negligent to more than a minor degree.
- What degree of negligence is required for gross negligence manslaughter?
The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction. The degree of negligence required for gross negligence manslaughter is considerable, but the judge had used epithets such as ‘wicked’ and ‘culpable’ which correctly conveyed this. However, the judge should not have allowed the jury to consider certain aspects of the procedure as negligent, and it was not certain that they would have convicted on the remainder of the evidence alone. The conviction was therefore unsafe.
This Case is Authority For…
The court set out the requirements to prove gross negligence manslaughter:
- The defendant must owe the victim a duty of care;
- The defendant must have failed to discharge that duty (in other words, tortious negligence must be established);
- The failure to discharge the duty caused the victim’s death; and
- The jury must be satisfied that the failure ‘went beyond a mere matter of compensation and showed such disregard for the life and safety of others as to amount to a crime against the State and conduct deserving punishment.’
The court stressed that the degree of negligence required is higher than what would constitute negligence in tort. Whether negligence is gross is a matter of fact and degree, and is for the jury to decide.