Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc) Bill02/02/2018
Private Members Bill - Second Reading 2nd February 2018 - Explanatory Notes to the Bill
Under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, coroners have a duty to investigate deaths in certain circumstances, such as where the death is violent or unnatural. Coroners can only investigate the deaths of babies who show signs of life after being born, not babies who die before or during labour. Coroners can commence an investigation to decide if a duty to conduct an investigation arises if there is any doubt as to whether a baby was stillborn but their investigation must end if they find it was a stillbirth. They will not investigate into the circumstances of why the baby was stillborn.
On 28 November 2017 the Secretary of State for Health announced a number of new measures as part of the relaunch of the Maternity Safety Strategy to reduce the current rate of stillbirths in England and to spread knowledge and learning in the system. This includes a commitment that from April 2018, every case of stillbirth, neonatal death, suspected brain injury or maternal death that is notified to the Royal College of Obstetrician and Gynaecologists ‘Each Baby Counts’ programme will be investigated independently by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB). This effectively removes responsibility for deciding whether and to what extent such cases should be investigated from the care provider and/or commissioner. The investigations will have an explicit remit not just to get to the bottom of what happened in an individual instance, but to spread knowledge around the system and be learning focused, and will involve families from the outset. There is however a question of whether coroners should have a role to play in investigating stillbirths to contribute to learning and reducing the stillbirth rate. Additionally, concerns have also been raised by parents that some babies who showed signs of life after birth were being classified as stillborn and hence were not being reported to the coroner.
Clause 4 of the Bill places a duty on the Secretary of State to arrange for the preparation and publication of a report on whether, and if so how, the law ought to be changed to enable or require coroners to investigate still-births; and after the report has been published, gives a power to the Lord Chancellor to make regulations providing for coroners to investigate stillbirths.
Details of the second reading debate; full explanatory notes; briefing papers etc have be found via the hyperlink below: