Under s1 of the Coroner and Justice Act 2009 a Coroner has a duty (in certain circumstances) to investigate the deaths of ‘a deceased person’, however neither a stillborn baby nor a foetus is classed as one. It is only if a baby has taken their ‘first breath’ that they are regarded as a ‘person’ in the eyes of the law.
But why is a change in the law so important within the context of clinical negligence work?
The sad fact is, currently parents of stillborn babies reply on the hospital where their baby died to carry out an investigation and report to families on what happened. These investigations are often not conducted in a timely or transparent way, with families often fobbed-off with sub-standard explanations. In some cases, families receive an external independent investigation into their baby’s death, but this is not routine.
If the law was changed to enable a Coroner to investigate a stillbirth, the investigation would be entirely independent and potentially highlight procedural, managerial and clinical inadequacies that had previously gone unchecked. In short, clinical negligence claims could potentially be avoided if a hospital is made to face, and change, unsafe ways of working.
There is also a psychological benefit for grieving families. Often, they must spend years involved in a clinical negligence claim before they get a true understating of what went wrong. Such a delay is not conducive to the grieving process and, put simply, to have to fight to get answers is unjust.
Earlier this month, the Parliamentary Members Bill regarding Coroners’ investigations into stillbirths had its second reading. Tim Loughton, the MP who has brought this Private Members Bill, emphasised in parliament that “it would be to the benefit of all parents who have suffered the loss of a baby that there is more transparency and evidence that lessons are being learned from these tragic cases.”
This change in law therefore has the potential to reduce clinical negligence claims, and ultimately reduce compensation payments to families of stillborn and damaged babies.
If you need representation at an Inquest, or legal advice in relation to a birth injury claim, contact us for a free, no hassle, initial discussion.
The full bill regarding the change to Inquest laws and stillbirths can be viewed here.