Stillbirth inquests another step closer to becoming law

By Janet Baker, Director & Solicitor, Clinical Negligence department

If you ask any parent, they will tell you how many children they have. If you ask a parent of a child who has died, that number doesn’t change. As a society we all accept that you are a parent, however you define yourself.

Jack and Sarah Hawkins are parents to baby Harriet, who was stillborn in 2016. If she had been born in Sarah’s native Northern Ireland, there would have been a Coroner’s investigation into Harriet’s death and the circumstances. The family may have been spared the subsequent investigations they felt were needed, which have ultimately found significant failures in the care afforded to Sarah and Harriet.

Jack and Sarah believe that if there had been a Coroner’s Investigation into Harriet’s death the serious failing in care would have been identified much sooner and babies who died after Harriet would have been saved. As it was it was almost two years after Harriet died and only after an independent external review panel published its report that the Trust admitted responsibility for Harriet’s death.

It comes as some relief that Tim Loughton MP is spearheading a Private Members Bill (Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill 2017-19)) which last Friday was debated in the Lords, and is taking its next step to changing the law. Jack and Sarah Hawkins have actively played a role in attending the All Party Committee in the Commons providing insight into their experiences.

One of the aims of the bill is to extend the jurisdiction of the Coroner to investigate Stillbirths in certain circumstances and is welcomed by Jack and Sarah and by Switalskis Solicitors.

In the debate in the House of Lords Baroness Brinton said:

On stillbirth, I completely accept my noble friend Lady Barker’s important point about the duty of candour for obstetricians and gynaecologists, but, frankly, we have had too many scandals where departments have not looked after mothers and babies and there have been baby losses. The helpful part of having a coroner is to identify bad practice and bad processes where a body outside the NHS needs to be able to identify it.

It is of crucial importance, to have had this debate with the onus now on the Secretary of State to review the proposal. It was said during the debate that the Government supports the proposal.

We remain hopeful that this proposed Bill will continue to Royal Ascent and become enshrined into Law.

More info: https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/civilpartnershipsmarriagesanddeathsregistrationetc.html