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Reform call for coronial law on stillbirths

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The influential House of Commons’ Justice Committee has called for reform of the Coroner’s system which is currently unable to investigate stillbirths.

In its report, released in May, it acknowledged that there have been repeated calls for stillbirths to be brought within the remit of the Coroner Service – something Shoosmiths has been campaigning for with the charity the Campaign for Safer Births for eight years.

In 2019 Tim Loughton MP introduced a Private Members’ Bill proposing the legislative change which had its third reading in the House of Lords early last year.

The Government carried out a consultation on the issue in 2019, proposing that deaths after 37th week of pregnancy should be in scope of an inquest - but it has yet to respond. Unfortunately, there has been a delay in this happening because of the pandemic.

The May report said it welcomed the consultation but added it was ‘disappointing’ that it appears to have stalled. It recommended: “The Ministry of Justice should revive the consultation on coronial investigation of stillbirths and publish proposals for reform.”

Sarah Harper, clinical negligence specialist and legal director in our Northampton office, said that many families who have suffered potentially avoidable stillbirth, including many of Shoosmiths’ clients, will welcome this recommendation as the learnings from the Inquest process will hopefully result in better maternity care to reduce the numbers of stillbirths.

Sarah acted for Michelle Hemmington in relation to a claim following the stillbirth of her son Louie. Michelle has since set up the Campaign for Safer Births, a charity aiming to reduce the avoidable deaths and injuries of babies and mothers during labour and birth. With the support of Shoosmiths, Michelle has been persistently lobbying for a change to the Coroner system.
Sarah said:

“This goes some way towards our goal of including stillbirths in Coroner’s investigations to help ensure that the concerns about their maternity treatment are heard and perhaps avoided in the future.
If the reform is introduced, the independent coroner will also be able to consider whether any lessons could be learned and make recommendations to improve safety.”

Michelle has lobbied parliament and has given presentations up and down the country to coroners to garner support for the cause. Shoosmiths has been proud to support Michelle and the CFSB in their efforts to seek justice for all parents in similar circumstances.

The report by the Justice Committee makes sweeping recommendations for improvement and reform of the Coroner Service which, if implemented, could result in in more positive outcomes of healthcare Inquests and possibly even the prevention of deaths caused by systematic failures identified at the hearings.

The Justice Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Ministry of Justice and its associated public bodies.

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