Attorney General to appeal ‘no inquest for stillborn baby’ ruling

Northern Ireland’s Attorney General is to appeal a High Court ruling that no inquest can be held into the death of a stillborn child, it emerged today.

John Larkin QC will challenge the decision that senior coroner John Leckey was right to refuse to examine the circumstances surrounding baby Axel Desmond.

Earlier this month a judge held that such an inquest would be beyond Mr Leckey’s legal powers.

Papers confirming an appeal against that verdict are now set to be lodged.

Axel Desmond was stillborn at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry in October 2001 - one of 112 such cases that year across Northern Ireland.

His mother Siobhan went into labour two weeks after her due date.

She had planned to give birth at home in Derry but following complications was admitted to hospital where Axel was born by emergency caesarean section.

Staff tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him.

The Attorney General issued judicial review proceedings after the coroner declined to comply with his direction to hold an inquest.

His lawyers argued that such a tribunal should be held for a stillborn child who was capable of being born alive.

It was contended that the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 does not include any clear prohibition.

But counsel for Mr Leckey claimed the legislation only covers death after a live birth.

Mr Justice Treacy upheld the coroner’s position on the basis that the legislation did not give jurisdiction for stillbirths.

A spokesman for the Attorney General confirmed today that the ruling is to be appealed.

He said: “The papers have been served and are ready to be lodged (in court).”

The development was backed by Ms Desmond, who spoke of being prepared for a long legal campaign.

“I’m happy about it because it means this is being thoroughly looked at,” she said.

“It’s just another step in a 12-year process and I believe it’s progress.”

Ms Desmond also praised the efforts being made on her behalf by the Attorney General’s office.

“There is an integrity, they don’t take things on lightly,” she added.

“When they take a decision to do something they follow it through logically.