Correcting the record: Australian prosecutions for manslaughter in the medical context

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of law and medicine, 2015, 22 (3), pp. 588 - 609
Issue Date:
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The failure to prosecute Dr Jayant Patel successfully for any of the deaths associated with his time as Director of Surgery at Bundaberg Base Hospital was received in some quarters as an abject failure of the criminal law to deal adequately with significant wrongdoing. The case itself, the multiple public inquiries and the significant expense to pursue, extradite and prosecute Patel, resulting finally in a finding of guilt on a number of minor fraud charges, seems to compound this sense of failure. This article argues otherwise. When placed within the far longer and forgotten history of the prosecution of manslaughter by criminal negligence in the Australian jurisdiction, this story of prosecutorial failure becomes instead wholly consistent with the case law over time. No adequate account of the history of prosecution in the Australian jurisdiction exists for this area of law. To present Patel in context, the article draws upon archival research to provide a significantly extended account of the history of prosecution for manslaughter in the health care context. The extension of the case law is significant, from four known prosecutions, case histories of another 33 inadequately acknowledged prosecutions are presented.
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