What is wilful neglect and why you need expert help if accused?

Our Rachel Murphy explains the law and why you need expert help if you are accused.

The offence of ‘wilful neglect’ is a new offence under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (CJCA 2015) under which there is criminal liability where a person has been placed under the care of a medical professional, such as in a hospital or care home. It came into force on 13 April 2015 as a response to the many scandals in care homes and Hospitals and especially in relation to the abuse of the vulnerable adults and the elderly.

Previously prosecutions for ill treatment or wilful neglect could only be undertaken where the victim lacked capacity or was receiving treatment for a mental disorder. The act covers both an individual working for an organisation who ill treats or wilfully neglects another individual of whom he has care and a care provider if a person working for the provider ill treats or wilfully neglects an individual under the providers care and there is a gross breach in the duty of care owed to the victim which would have resulted in the neglect or ill treatment being avoided if the gross breach had not occurred.

What does wilful neglect mean?

“Wilful” is defined as intentional, or reckless and can be said to reflect a “couldn’t care less attitude” towards those that care is provided. The offence of wilful neglect is a conduct offence and the health care worker can be found guilty even if the intentional negligence did not cause any harm. The ill treatment requires a deliberate act or action that is reckless and therefore suggests that genuine errors or accidents are not within the scope of the offence. The offence also applies to Doctors and Nurses and will affect all those employed to provide medical and social care, although some children’s settings and services are excluded.

What is the likely sentence for wilful neglect?

The sentence will depend upon the individual circumstances of the offence. For example, whether any harm was caused, the number of victims and the period over which the neglect occurred. The offence upon conviction is punishable on indictment (before the Crown Court) to up to 5 years imprisonment and/or fine and on summary conviction (before the Magistrates Court) by 12 months imprisonment and/or a fine.

This offence is a major new legal risk for any business which employs people to deliver health or social care and for any individual working for such a provider.

So why is seeking help important?

When a professional who has dedicated their life to caring for others, finds themselves the subject of an accusation of wilful neglect, the importance of turning to professionals such as ourselves to help navigate the criminal justice process cannot be overstated. These types of allegations are so serious that they can result not only in the loss of a career, and the income and status previously enjoyed on that career path, but can also result in a custodial sentence if the allegations are proven. Invariably those accused have little or no experience of being brought before the Courts, so calling on the expertise and experience of solicitors at an early stage will give the best possible chance of setting the record straight.

Rachel Murphy - Burton Copeland

Rachel is a senior Chartered Legal Executive with over 25 years experience working in criminal law, for more information see her profile here.