Mandatory reporting of maternal and perinatal deaths due
Reforms to coroners legislation will strengthen and modernise current law
The proposals follow advice from the Attorney General Séamus Woulfe, who said the current flaws in the legislation may contravene Ireland’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
The Government is to commit to mandatory reporting of maternal and perinatal deaths under proposed reforms to coroners legislation.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan will seek Cabinet approval On Wednesday to strengthen and modernise the current law, including giving coroners the powers to summon witnesses to inquest, and to direct a witness to produce documents and evidence, or answer questions.
It will also give coroners the authority to enter and inspect premises, take copies or take possession of any evidence, and there will be sanctions for witnesses not co-operating with inquest.
The proposals follow advice from the Attorney General Séamus Woulfe, who said the current flaws in the legislation may contravene Ireland’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Bill will address long-promised reforms to the investigation of maternal deaths, changes that have been championed by Independents4Change TD Clare Daly.
No automatic inquests
Currently, there are no automatic inquests for maternal deaths, and many families have spent years trying to find out why their wives and mothers died before, during or shortly after childbirth.
Figures show that between 2011 and 2013 there were 27 maternal deaths but only three of those deaths were the subject of an inquest.
The proposed legislative changes will also allow a coroner to inquire into a stillbirth where there is cause for concern, for instance raised by the bereaved parents
It was one of the first issues the Attorney General was asked to address when he took office last year.
Mr Flanagan will today ask for Cabinet approval to legislate for mandatory reporting to, and investigation by, a coroner of all maternal deaths.
There will also be a pledge to provide legal aid for the next of kin at inquest in cases of maternal death; and to provide for mandatory reporting to a coroner of stillbirths, intrapartum deaths and infant deaths.
A Government source said: “The Bill is a response to Clare Daly’s Private Members’ Bill which sought additional measures to improve the investigation of maternal deaths. It incorporates the amendments sought by Deputy Daly and also addresses other important reforms required by coronial law.
“Aside from clarifying, modernising and strengthening the legal powers of coroners, the Bill addresses a key problem which has caused great public unease: that in a number of high profile cases, regarding both maternal deaths and perinatal deaths, deaths occurring in hospitals – which should have been reported to coroners because they raised issues of medical error and were ‘unnatural deaths’ under the Coroners Act 1962 – were not so reported.”
The proposed legislative changes will also allow a coroner to inquire into a stillbirth where there is cause for concern, for instance raised by the bereaved parents.
There will also be further provisions to regulate the appropriate removal, and respectful storage and disposal, of body material for the purposes of a postmortem examination and inquest.