What is Gross Negligence Manslaughter?


This is a topic that you may have seen in the media lately in relation to recent cases regarding food allergies causing deaths, but what is Gross Negligence Manslaughter and how do I know if there is a liability for this?

To briefly summarise, Gross Negligence Manslaughter is where a person dies as a result of a gross breach of duty resulting from gross negligence.

There is a test used to determine liability, called the Adomako test, as outlined in the house of lords. This is as follows:

  • There must be a duty of care to the deceased
  • There is a breach of that duty which caused or contributes to the death of the deceased.
  • The breach can be classed as grossly negligent (which makes it a crime)


The name of the test comes from case law R v Adomako (1995), which was a case concerning a medical anaesthetist, Mr. Adomako. Adomako was overseeing an operation on a patient when an important tube became disconnected which was crucial for the patient to breathe – the patient died as a consequence of this leading to a case of Gross Negligence Manslaughter against Adomako.

Ultimately it was a question for the jury, was Adomako’s conduct so negligent that it should  be considered criminal? – the verdict was “Yes”, ultimately Adomako knew, or ought to have known as a professional that there was a reasonably foreseeable risk of death or serious consequences should an incident like this occur, there was a duty of care owed as the defendant was supervising the procedure and the breach of duty did lead to the death. The conviction was appealed but the appeal was dismissed.


If an individual is found guilty of Gross Negligence Manslaughter, this could result in life imprisonment and or an unlimited fine.

The Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, section 2 also gives a power for courts to disqualify individuals who have been convicted of an offence in relation to running a company (which includes H&S).

Even if it cannot be proved that there was a gross breach of duty by an individual, there could be a prosecution of the organisation as a corporate body under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 if it can be shown there was a duty owed by the company to the deceased which was breached and led to the death of the deceased through the way work is organised or managed. If found guilty of Corporate manslaughter the organisation could face an unlimited fine, section 10 of the act also gives the court power to impose a publicity order requiring the organisation to publicise details of the prosecution in a specified manner.


Hopefully you will never have to experience this occurring, and certainly by complying with the law you will be in the best position to defend any potential prosecution. As part of your Chamber memebrship, you have access to a 24 hour legal helpline which covers Health & Safety, Legal, HR & Tax as well as help with reviewing your safety management system with the aim of developing it. Having robust systems in place will significantly reduce the likelihood of an incident and should something occur the important thing is to know what to do about it, we can also help with this by way of offering training on safety responsibilities aimed at all levels in the business from most to least senior and everybody in between.


For a reminder of your login details to access the online document library please contact the Chamber on 0333 358 3480. 

29th January 2019

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