Attorney General to appeal stillbirth inquest decision

Siobhan Desmond

Siobhan Desmond

By Kathryn Torney

NORTHERN Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin has served appeal papers against a High Court decision which found against his order to hold an inquest into the death of a stillborn baby.

As The Detail reported earlier this month, Mr Justice Treacy dismissed a challenge by Mr Larkin against a decision by senior coroner John Leckey not to hold an inquest into the death of Axel Desmond in 2001.

Axel died in Altnagelvin Hospital in October 2001. He was alive, moving and had a heart rate up to the moment his mother Siobhan lost consciousness under anaesthetic for the caesarean delivery.

Mr Larkin directed that Mr Leckey should hold an inquest into Axel’s death after considering his case.

In his judgement issued on May 8, Mr Treacy said that the ramifications of allowing inquests to take place into stillbirths would reverberate widely and would have implications in other areas like abortion, stem cell research, IVF and cloning.

He said that while there was substantial persuasive evidence on both sides, there were also important and weighty policy issues at the core of the challenge, “such as ‘What is a person?’, ‘Is it possible to die before one has been born?’, ‘Is there a legal difference between life in the womb and life outside the womb?’”

Inquests are currently not held into stillbirths anywhere in Britain and Ireland.

Speaking after the decision was announced on May 8, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office said: “The Attorney is disappointed with the judgment and will be actively considering an appeal.”

Today, he said: “I can confirm that appeal papers have been served and are ready for lodging.”

THE GROUNDS FOR APPEAL

The Notice to Appeal document outlines detailed grounds of the Attorney General’s appeal.

These include:

  • The learned judge erred in law in failing to conclude that a stillborn child could be a “deceased person”.
  • That he also erred in law by failing to conclude that “Properly construed, the 1959 Act confers jurisdiction, in appropriate cases, for a coroner to hold an inquest into the death of a stillborn child so that, in the present case, it was not lawfully open to the Senior Coroner to decline to comply with the direction given to him by the Attorney General…”
  • That he also erred “… in concluding that there was anything inappropriate or restrictive in the application being determined, or the various arguments advanced being considered, by a court of first instance rather than a superior court…”

To read the Notice of Appeal in full, see the link to the document below this article.

THE NEXT STEP

Speaking to The Detail today, Axel’s mother Siobhan welcomed that the appeal papers have been served.

She said: “I am now gathering myself for the next stage of the process. I am very happy that Axel’s case is receiving thorough and precise consideration.

“This case has the potential to impact on so many lives so it is important that there is great scrutiny at every stage.

“I have every confidence in my legal team and I am so grateful to the Attorney General’s Office and the commitment it has shown to Axel’s case.”