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23 June 2020 | Firm News | Article by Ruth Powell

Hugh James wins landmark case in first clinical negligence trial to take place ‘in person’ during lockdown

A judge has, this week, ruled in favour of a family at the centre of an unprecedented face-to-face clinical negligence trial during lockdown.

The trial centred on the case of a child, who cannot be identified because of an anonymity order, and is known only as SC. In 2006, at the age of 15 months, the child was displaying the signs and symptoms of a serious bacterial infection. Her GP suspected meningitis and sent her to hospital in an ambulance after giving her penicillin. But, doctors at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust did not take sufficient notice of the GPs concerns and instead diagnosed tonsillitis. Her meningitis was therefore left partially treated. She subsequently developed hemiplegic cerebral palsy and has severe and complex needs.

The case, at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, was initially due to be heard remotely because of COVID19 restrictions. Shortly before the trial was due to start, the Defendant applied for an adjournment on the grounds that a remote hearing would be unfair. But the judge, the Honourable Mr Justice Johnson, rejected the application to adjourn and directed that the trial should take place in court.

It would be rare for a complex clinical negligence case to go to trial even before the coronavirus. The ‘in person’ ruling during lockdown, with important implications for the hearing of trials in the COVID19 era, makes it even more unusual.

In total, 4 experts provided evidence, one remotely, the others in-person at court. There were also 5 lay witnesses who appeared in-person. Social distancing measures were enforced in the courtroom. Lawyers had to use separate bundles to avoid the risk of cross contamination. Solicitors were not permitted to pass notes between the family, experts and barristers. Instead, they communicated important messages via WhatsApp and mobile phone texts, with special permission granted for this purpose.

The judgement was handed down remotely this week (22 June) by email and the judge found the NHS Trust liable for the claimant’s injuries and other loss and damage that she has sustained.

This has been a very long and arduous road for my client and the whole family has been extremely brave to take this to trial. It was a very complex case and the fact that it was tried ‘in-person’ during very difficult circumstances due to the coronavirus, makes their bravery, determination and resilience even more remarkable.

If you believe that you have received a level of care from your doctors that falls below the level you should have received, our medical negligence experts may be able to help.

The Hugh James Medical Negligence team is one of the largest teams of its kind in the UK, a combined 30+ years experience that includes 6 partners and 17 qualified lawyers, with a national reputation amongst clients & peers. The team is consistently ranked in top tiers for Chambers UK & Legal 500 independent legal directories and regularly appears in UK news, articles & legal publications.

The team specialises in high-value cases that include; cerebral palsy, spinal injuries, brain injuries, psychiatric and obstetric cases.

Author bio

Ruth Powell


Ruth is a Partner and Head of our Clinical Negligence Department. She has exclusively practised in clinical negligence since qualifying in 1995 and has a wealth of experience in complex and high value clinical negligence claims.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.


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