It is the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 from which a Coroner derives power to conduct an inquest into an unexplained death. However, the current position in England and Wales is that a ‘deceased person’, for the purposes of this Act, does not include a foetus or stillborn baby. The Coroner does not have jurisdiction to hold an inquest into the circumstances surrounding a stillbirth.
The position is different in Northern Ireland following the case of Axel Desmond in 2013. He was born in 2001 after being carried full term. There had been a faint heartbeat shortly before the stillbirth. The Senior Coroner originally declined to accept jurisdiction, however, this was successfully appealed and The Court of Appeal interpreted the legislation governing Northern Ireland to allow the definition of a ‘deceased person’ to include a “foetus in utero then capable of being born alive.”
Between November 2013 and April 2015 there were then over 60 stillbirths referred to Northern Ireland’s Coroners service. Sadly, parents in England and Wales do not have this option available to them.
This has been highlighted recently by the case of Sarah and Jack Hawkins. Their daughter was pronounced dead after 37 weeks of pregnancy in April 2016. The pregnancy had been reported as normal, but the hospital made a sequence of errors in Mrs Hawkins treatment in the days prior to this devastating event.
After being told their daughter had died of an infection, a ‘serious untoward incident’ (SUI) report was prepared. This report did not not answer the parents’ questions or address their concerns and the Clinical Commissioning Group has now ordered a second SUI.
Mr and Mrs Hawkins feel the death of their daughter was “completely avoidable” and believe that if inquests had been held into previous stillborn deaths, their daughter may have survived.
Elizabeth McCumisky, Solicitor at Medical Accident Group said “a baby’s death is a harrowing experience that brings indescribable grief to parents and families. To then be faced with the inadequacies of a hospital investigation only adds to the grief experienced by the parents. By allowing parents the option of an Inquest procedure, this would assist the parents in understanding what went wrong. It would also highlight the problems in the healthcare system which, if addressed, could prevent future stillbirths.”
As an experienced local firm, we have managed to secure an award of compensation for many clients who have experienced negligent medical treatment. If you have suffered from poor treatment, Medical Accident Group can help. We have a team of dedicated clinical negligence solicitors, with over 30 years’ experience, who will guide you through the process of making a claim. If you believe you have a claim, call the team now on 0800 050 1668.