Limited number of verdicts available to Savita jury

Verdict could prove an anticlimax but value of inquest is in evidence heard

Coroner Dr Ciarán MacLoughlin will today present his summary of the Savita Halappanavar case and charge the jury. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Coroner Dr Ciarán MacLoughlin will today present his summary of the Savita Halappanavar case and charge the jury. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Fri, Apr 19, 2013, 06:00

After seven days of evidence, Savita Halappanavar’s inquest has shed much light on the circumstances that led to her tragic death in Galway University Hospital last October.

Today, coroner Dr Ciarán MacLoughlin will present his summary of the case and charge the jury. The six men and five women on the jury will then retire to consider their verdict, which is expected later in the day.

The three legal teams involved in this hearing – for Ms Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, the HSE and the hospital, and Ms Halappanavar’s consultant, Dr Katherine Astbury – have signalled they do not intend to make submissions today. However, they may yet be heard if, in their view, issues arise with Dr MacLoughlin’s summary and charge to the jury.

The verdict in an inquest is a short summary of the circumstances of death and a conclusion on the means by which death occurred. The jury may also decide to make recommendations, which have to be of a general nature and must not censure or exonerate any person in relation to the death. Dr MacLoughlin, who is a GP from Clifden and also holds a legal degree, may also choose to make some recommendations of his own.

Among the verdicts open to the jury are accidental death, death by natural causes, death by misadventure, medical misadventure, an open verdict and one of unlawful killing. Other possible verdicts such as suicide or stillbirth clearly do not apply in this instance.

Were a finding of unlawful killing to be made in this case, it could be reached only if this is proved beyond reasonable doubt and no person is named for the killing.

An open verdict is returned where it is found there is insufficient evidence to record any other specified verdict.

A verdict of misadventure is applied to a wide variety of deaths which might generally be described as the unintended outcome of an intended action, according to a Department of Justice review of the coroner's service published some years ago.

Medical misadventure is where there is an unintended outcome of an intended action in a medical context or where complications arising from a medical procedure cause death.

Another option would be a narrative verdict, where the circumstances of death are recorded without the cause being attributed to named individuals. In this case, it could be argued that the real public service performed by this inquest lies not in the verdict but in the exhaustive examination of the facts of the case carried out over seven days of evidence.