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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Manslaughter: illegality defence to compensation claim


Illegality defence

Case Ecila Henderson (A Protected Party, by her litigation friend, The Official Solicitor) v Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust [2020] UKSC 43

Facts Ms H suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. In August 2010 she stabbed her mother to death during a psychotic episode. At that time, she was under the care of D. She was convicted of manslaughter. The judge at her trial said that she was not responsible for what she had done. She was sentenced to a hospital order and an unlimited restriction order.

Ms H claimed compensation from D which admitted liability for its negligent failure to return Ms H to hospital when her psychiatric condition deteriorated. If it had done so, Ms H’s mother would not have been killed. D argued that the claim was barred for illegality because her compensation claim was based on the sentence imposed on her by the criminal court and/or her own criminal act of manslaughter.

The High Court found in favour of D. Ms H’s appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal. She appealed to the Supreme Court.

Decision 1. The appeal was dismissed. Ms H’s claim was barred by the illegality defence.

2. Similar claims were held to be irrecoverable in the case of Gray v Thames Trains. The crucial consideration in Gray was that the claimant had been found to be criminally responsible, not the degree of personal responsibility which that reflected.

3. The proper approach to the illegality defence was one based on a balancing of public policy considerations. The policy considerations in Ms H’s case were:

* the gravity of the criminal offence

* public interest in the proper allocation of NHS resources

* the close connection between her claim and the offence

* the public interest in deterring, protecting the pubic from and condemning unlawful killing.

4. Ms H could not recover her full share of her mother’s estate.

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