To continue our coverage to raise awareness during Baby Loss Awareness Week, today we cover some potential upcoming changes in the law relating to stillbirths.

The current law relating to stillbirths

 Registration

  • When a baby is born alive, its birth must be registered.
  • The death of a baby born alive (neonatal death) must also be registered.
  • When a baby is stillborn (born dead) after 24 weeks pregnancy, the stillbirth must be registered in the stillbirth register.
  • There is currently no provision to allow the registration of stillbirths before the 24th week of pregnancy.

Inquests

  • An inquest is a legal investigation into the circumstances of a person’s death, including how, when and why the death occurred.
  • The inquest procedure is carried out by the Coroner’s Office and is covered by coronial law.
  • Stillbirths are not currently covered by coronial law.
  • This means that when a baby is born stillborn, there is no requirement that the Coroner’s Office carry out an inquest into the cause of the death

Campaigns to change the law

There are numerous campaigns and petitions calling for the law in this area to be changed.

A large number of stillbirths are categorised as “unexplained”. This can result in a very difficult grieving process for the parents, who are left unsure as to how or why their baby died.

The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (SANDS) is a major supporter of the campaign to have stillbirths covered by coronial law. They argue that the current system of investigation when a baby dies is wholly inadequate.

The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill

Most recently, these calls to change the law have been embodied in The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill 2017 – 2019, sponsored by Tim Loughton.

The next stage for the Bill is the Report stage in the House of Commons, which is scheduled for 26 October 2018.

The Bill will require the Secretary of State to prepare a report on whether, and if so how, the law ought to be changed in respect of registration of pregnancy losses which cannot be registered as stillbirths under the current law.

The Bill will also require the Secretary of State to prepare a report on whether, and if so how, the law ought to be changed to enable or to require coroners to investigate stillbirths.

Benefits of a change to the law

Freeths fully supports the proposition that stillbirths should be covered by coronial law. Having the ability to conduct inquests into the death of stillborn babies would allow greater insight into what are the main causes of these deaths.

Having a greater understanding of the cause of stillbirths could have a number of benefits, including:

  • The ability to implement improvements to systems, facilities and training for staff. These improvements may then minimise the number of stillbirths that occur.
  • Parents may have a greater chance of understanding why their baby died. This may assist with the grieving process and provide closure for some parents.
  • The inquest procedure may result in the parents being offered an apology, if it became apparent that the death could have been preventable.

Freeths’ Clinical Negligence Solicitors have a national reputation for providing the highest quality legal advice following failures by medical professionals to provide appropriate care during pregnancy, labour, delivery and in the neonatal period. We have specialist expertise and experience in clinical negligence cases surrounding stillbirth and baby loss. We are also proud to be the Foundation for Infant Loss recommended solicitors for Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire.

If you, or someone you know, requires specialist advice please contact Carolyn Lowe, Partner, on 0186 578 1019 or carolyn.lowe@freeths.co.uk or another member of our national team.

Freeths Clinical Negligence team is led by: 

Carolyn Lowe, Partner (Oxford/Milton Keynes) 0186 578 1019 carolyn.lowe@freeths.co.uk

Jane Williams, Partner (Leicester/Nottingham) on 0845 272 5724 or jane.williams@freeths.co.uk

Karen Reynolds, Partner (Derby/Stoke on Trent) on 0845 274 6830 karen.reynolds@freeths.co.uk