It has been reported in the press that Network Rail has been fined £450,000 following the death of Mrs Jane Harding in January 2010. Mrs Harding was killed when her car, which was being driven by her husband, Mark Harding, was hit by a train.

The accident happened as there was no automatic barrier locking system at the level crossing in Moreton-on-Lugg, Herefordshire. Mrs Harding was killed instantly and this was due to Network Rail failing to install an automatic barrier locking system at the level crossing.

At the criminal prosecution, Network Rail was in addition, ordered to pay £33,000 in prosecution costs. Their mistake cost Mrs Harding her life and they have had to pay out almost half a million pounds as a consequence. Further, the signalman employed at the station by Network Rail, Mr Adrian Maund, was fined £1,750 for raising the barrier before a train had passed through the village. He was, apparently, under the impression that the train had already done so. Sadly, the accident could have been completely avoided if Network Rail had installed an approach-locking system which would have rendered it impossible for the signalman to raise the barrier.

The Corporate Manslaughter & Homicide Act 2007 came into force on 6 April 2008 and introduced the offence of corporate manslaughter applicable to the organisation concerned (rather than individual employees). The offence is punishable by an unlimited fine and the courts will also impose a remedial order requiring the organisation concerned to address the cause of the fatal injury. The court can also impose a publicity order, which requires the organisation to publicise the details of the fatal injury.

In 2006, I was interviewed by ITV and invited to comment on the groundbreaking legal decision following the death of Sean Phillips at Southampton General Hospital following a routine knee operation. In that case, Mr Phillips died following substandard clinical treatment following the delay in diagnosing and treating an infection. The two doctors involved in his treatment were convicted at Winchester Crown Court of Mr Phillips’ manslaughter due to gross negligence in 2003. Both were given suspended sentences.

Mayra Cabrera was another patient who received substandard treatment. She was a patient at Swindon Hospital and following the delivery of her son, Zac, she was incorrectly given a fatal dose of strong epidural anaesthetic and she died of a heart attack 3 hours later. The Swindon & Marlborough NHS Trust acting by the Chief Pharmacist and the midwife were found to blame for Mayra’s death.

The impact of the Act on patients in hospitals or members of the public in other instances is that the Act increases assurance of health and safety risk management. It reviews the roles of employees employed by the organisation and in particular the adherence to health and safety policies, standards and other legal obligations.

The financial implications are that there will be immediate costs associated with auditing effectiveness of health and safety management (and clinical management in the NHS setting). Costs also associated with any changes that need to be made to ensure health and safety as well as the significant risk of threatened or actual prosecution.