The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, published the Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2018 on 2 August 2018 with the aim of significantly clarifying, strengthening and modernising the law relating to the reporting of deaths to coroners. The Bill, once enacted, will amend the Coroners Act 1962.
The Bill allows for a wider scope of inquiry and seeks to address public unease regarding high profile cases including maternal deaths. Minister Flanagan has stated that, in the past, deaths relating to maternity care which should have been reported because they raised issues of medical error and were “unnatural deaths” were not reported in line with existing laws and also that bereaved families experienced difficulty in obtaining basic information which should have been provided.
New schedule of deaths which must be reported
In order to remedy these concerns, a schedule of deaths which must be reported to the Coroner has been included in the Bill. This includes any maternal death or late maternal death, any death of a baby during delivery, a stillborn child or infant death. Additionally, a death must be reported where there is an allegation made or concern has been expressed regarding the medical treatment provided to the deceased person or relating to the management of his or her healthcare.
New reporting obligations
The Bill also details a list of those persons obliged to report a death including a medical practitioner, nurse or midwife who had responsibility for, or involvement in a woman’s treatment prior to the delivery of a stillborn child.
New statutory powers for the Coroner
Subject to advice of the Attorney General, the Minister has also agreed to draft a number of further amendments to the Bill which will include the following:
- “To provide a statutory basis for a Coroner to inquire into a stillbirth where there is cause for concern, for example, arising from matters raised by the bereaved parents;
- To allow the Coroner to seek directions from the High Court on a point of law in relation to the performance of their functions;
- Providing for the Minister to make regulations on the proper storage and disposal of any material removed for the purposes of a post mortem examination, including return to a family member for disposal where requested and appropriate, and
- Providing a power for the Coroner to direct a hospital or other health institution to make medical records of a deceased person available, for the purposes of a post mortem examination.”
Although the Bill contains a list of mandatory reportable deaths, this does not mean that each report will cause a post mortem examination or inquest to take place. Interestingly, of 11,856 deaths reported to Coroners in 2017, post mortems were carried out in 3,338 cases and inquests took place in 2,143 cases.
Passage of the Bill
The Minister has committed to moving the Bill as early as possible in the new parliamentary session to facilitate a swift passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas. We will advise on the passage of the Bill as it will likely face a number of amendments.
Contributed by: Sinéad Keavey
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