One step closer: Inquests into cases of stillbirth


February 28, 2018 | By Janet Baker | ,

February 28, 2018 | By Janet Baker | ,

On 2 February 2018, the Parliamentary Members Bill regarding Coroners’ investigations into stillbirths had its second reading. During the second reading, Lilian Greenwood MP for Nottingham South referred to the experience of her constituents and our clients, Jack and Sarah Hawkins, whose baby daughter – Harriet – died whilst she was being born.

Jack and Sarah have been sharing their story publicly to give context to the proposed changes in the law that would enable Coroners to investigate the circumstances surrounding stillbirths. The involvement of a Coroner would explain to grieving families why their baby died and, according to Lilian Greenwood MP, “more importantly ensure that lessons are being learned from these tragic cases.”

Currently the Coroner has no jurisdiction to investigate a stillbirth, however following the reading of the bill, the government expressed commitment to bringing about this much saught after change in Inquest laws.

“It is an anomaly of the law to not have inquests into completely avoidable stillbirths. We’re absolutely delighted that the government has given the green light to change the law, and that Harriet’s life is to be of value” said Jack and Sarah Hawkins. “If the Department of Justice agree a change in law this will not only help the Department of Health in their ambition to reduce maternity errors, but also the treasury to reduce compensation payments to families of dead and damaged babies. Crucially, a change in law will enable other families in our position to grieve, rather than fight for justice.”

The Key Points: Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill 2nd reading

The bill included:

(1) The Secretary of State must make arrangements for the preparation of a report on whether, and if so how, the law ought to be changed to enable or require Coroners to investigate still-births.

(2) For the purposes of this sections, “still-births” is to be read in accordance with section 41 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953.

(3) The Secretary of State must publish the report prepared under this section.

(4) After the report has been published, the Lord Chancellor may make regulations (“investigation regulations”) in accordance with the following provisions of this section.

(5) Investigation regulations may amend Part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (coroners etc) to:

  1. enable or require coroners to conduct investigations into still-births (whether by treating still-births as deaths or otherwise);
  2. specify the circumstances in which those investigations are to take place (including by limiting the duty of power or investigate to certain descriptions of still-birth);
  3. provide for the purposes of those investigations;
  4. make provision equivalent or similar to provision in that Part relating to investigations into deaths.

(6) Investigation regulations may:

  1. make different provision for different purposes;
  2. make provision subject to exceptions;
  3. make incidental, consequential or supplemental provision (including provision amending provision made by or Under an Act, whenever passed or made);
  4. make transitional or transitory provision or savings.

(7) Investigation regulations may not –

  1. create any offence, or
  2. confer any power to make provision of a legislative character, other than by applying (with necessary modifications), or making equivalent or similar provision to, provision already contained in Part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

(8) Investigation regulations are to be made by statutory instrument.

(9) A statutory instrument containing investigation regulations may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(10) No investigation regulations may be made after the period of five years beginning with the day on which the report is published under subsection (3).

The full bill can be viewed here.

We are proud to continue to support Jack and Sarah Hawkins, who, along with their lawyer, Janet Baker from Switalskis Solicitors have worked tirelessly to have the death of their stillborn daughter, Harriet, investigated.

In parliament, Lilian Greenwood MP praised Jack and Sarah’s incredible fight and said, “They (Jack and Sarah) want to make their daughter proud, they surely make us all proud, we owe it to them to make this change in the law – please support this bill.”

Janet Baker

Janet is an experienced specialist and nationally-recognised expert in Clinical Negligence claims. She has developed a particular specialism for birth-related matters such as stillbirth and Cerebral Palsy. She is ranked in Band 1 for Clinical Negligence in Sheffield by Chambers and Partners and she has made regular appearances in national media. Janet's profile