Gross Negligence Prosecution Stopped at Half Time
(R v SE, Luton Crown Court, Andrew Jefferies QC)
In what is believed to be the first criminal prosecution for gross negligence manslaughter in relation to the administration of the little known drug, Ibogaine in the UK, Andrew Jefferies QC (instructed by JSP Law) successfully argued that there was no case to answer following arguments about causation. Ibogaine is an unlicensed drug derived from the Iboga plant, found in West Africa. It is reportedly used during healing and “coming of age” rituals for boys in African tribes. It is, however, also claimed to have properties which ‘cure’ addictions. Users describe experiencing an eight hour intensive reaction to the drug (a trance like state with vivid visions), during which the younger self effectively persuades the older self that the drug which the user is addicted to is unnecessary and no longer needed. It therefore has huge potential benefits to drug abusers. As a naturally occurring product, however, its molecular structure cannot be patented and hence has little commercial attraction to the private sector pharmaceutical companies. Similarly, as the beneficiaries of such a product are, largely, criminal drug abusers, research into its efficacy is of little interest to Governments with tight budgets. Such expenditure would hardly be a vote winner; hence clinical trial data is limited. Initial government funding in the USA was withdrawn in 1995. Andrew Jefferies QC’s client, SE, set up an Ibogaine treatment centre in Luton, administering the drug to addicts – many times successfully. In January 2015 however, a client sadly died. The cause of death was recorded as a combination of Ibogaine and heroin toxicity and SE was charged with gross negligence manslaughter. Although the prosecution was able to prove that there were many breaches of the duty of care which SE undertook towards the deceased, they could not show that any such breach had in fact “caused the death”; the deceased had secretly self-administered heroin whilst under the care of SE, thereby breaking the chain of causation. The trial Judge ruled that at most, the defendant had “provided the deceased with an opportunity to self-administer heroin” rather than “caused him to take heroin as a result of any identifiable breach of duty of care.