Appeal court allows stillborn baby inquest

North’s Attorney General challenged verdict that coroner was right to refuse his direction to examine birth

Northern Ireland’s senior coroner has the legal power to hold an inquest into a stillborn baby, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

In a landmark decision, senior judges backed the case made by Attorney General John Larkin on behalf of the mother of Axel Desmond.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan also called for guidance on stillbirths issued by the Department of Health to be “reviewed and reformulated as a matter of urgency”.

Mr Larkin was challenging an earlier verdict that coroner John Leckie was right to refuse his direction to examine the birth.


Axel was stillborn at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry in October 2001, one of 112 such cases that year across Northern Ireland. His mother Siobhán Desmond went into labour two weeks after her due date. She had planned to give birth at home but following complications, she was admitted to hospital where Axel was born by emergency Caesarean section.

Mr Larkin directed that an inquest be held, but the coroner refused last year on the basis that it went beyond his legal powers. Lawyers for the Attorney General sought to judicially review his decision, arguing that the Coroners Act contained no clear prohibition.

Earlier this year a High Court judge dismissed the Attorney General's case after setting out the potential ramifications in other areas such as abortion, stem cell research, IVF and cloning.