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Change in law surrounding inquests for stillbirths

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After six years of hard and persistent lobbying, the Campaign for Safer Births seems to have at last succeeded in changing the law surrounding inquests for stillbirths in late stage pregnancy.

Michelle HemmingtonMichelle Hemmington and Nicky Lyon founded the Campaign for Safer Births in early 2013. In Michelle’s case, it took four years of ongoing litigation before Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust finally admitted negligence leading to the death of Michelle’s son Louie.

Under the existing legislation, HM Coroner is obliged to hold inquests only for babies who have shown signs of life after being born. But, since Louie was officially declared stillborn, aside from an internal hospital investigation, there was no legal requirement for an independent investigation by a Coroner into his death. Michelle was left with many questions about her son’s death and little hope of ever getting all the answers she sought.

Now, thanks to the fact that Tim Loughton’s Private Members’ Bill has passed its third reading in the House of Lords, it may well soon be the law that a Coroner’s inquest must be held to investigate all stillbirths which occur at 37 weeks, which will mean an independent investigation into what went wrong will automatically happen.

The government is still consulting on giving Coroners in England and Wales powers to investigate all full-term stillbirths without any need to gain consent or permission from a third party before exercising that new power. While the coronial examination of the facts at inquest would not replace investigations by the hospital or NHS agencies, the Coroner would be able to consider whether any lessons could be learned and make suitable recommendations to improve safety.

Access Legal Solicitors continues to support the Campaign for Safer Births and Sarah Harper, senior associate, says:

‘Michelle and Nicky deserve many congratulations on their achievement; they have lobbied hard and effectively for this outcome. Their hope now is that the change in the law will help achieve the national ambition to halve the number of stillbirths and make maternity services in the UK world class, with all families receiving excellent care and the best possible outcomes.’

Additional media coverage

Northampton Chronicle and Echo

Inquests could be held into stillbirths thanks to Northampton mum's campaign

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