Protecting human rights in childbirth

Birthrights concerned by coronial stillbirth proposals

Birthrights has today published its response to the consultation on coronial investigations into stillbirths which closes on the 18th June. We urge all those with an interest to submit a response before the deadline next Tuesday.


Birthrights recognises the positive intent to help families, who have suffered the heartbreak of a stillbirth, to access an independent investigation about what happened. However, we believe that further consideration and impact analysis is needed to ensure these proposals deliver what families need, without putting further strain on an over-stretched coronial system and unintentionally blurring the legal definition of personhood, which could have serious consequences for the scrutiny and rights of pregnant women. It is crucial that women and families are kept at the heart of any future process.

We are calling for:

  • Parents to have the final say over whether a post-mortem is conducted, not the coroner
  • Families to be given information about what the coronial process involves in order to make an informed decision about whether to proceed, and to have access to proper support throughout the process
  • Provision for legal aid for families to be represented in the coroners court
  • Safeguards to be put in place around the questioning of the person who gave birth, particularly their antenatal choices which may be put under scrutiny
  • Media reporting restrictions to be put in place to protect families’ right to privacy 
  • Proper assessment of whether the coronial system has the capacity to take on these investigations
  • A full equalities impact assessment to be conducted before any changes are introduced 
  • Further consideration of how coroners investigations fit with other processes, some of which are quite new, such as HSIB investigations
  • Consideration of whether other non-legal processes, such as open disclosure, may better meet the policy objectives 

Chief Executive Amy Gibbs commented:

“We deeply sympathise with families who have experienced the tragedy of a stillbirth and know many bereaved families feel current investigations and procedures have been inadequate and defensive. It is essential that the Government gets these proposals right to honour these families, without creating unintended consequences. As our response sets out, we believe that creating a new and distinctive set of coronial powers that permit a coronial enquiry and investigation, where bereaved parents have given informed consent and are supported by appropriate safeguards, is the only acceptable solution compatible with human rights principles.”

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