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Injuries to unborn children: Extracts from the report of the Law Commission
  1. Samuel Cooke, Chairman,
  2. Claud Bicknell,
  3. Aubrey L. Diamond,
  4. Derek Hodgson,
  5. Norman S. Marsh,
  6. J M Cartwright Sharp, Secretary


    We are printing, by kind permission of the Law Commission, two sections of the report of the Law Commission on injuries to unborn children. This report was the result of a request to the Law Commission by the Lord Chancellor at the time (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone) to advise on `what the nature and extent of civil liability for antenatal injury should be'. The Law Commission followed its usual practice in such circumstances of consulting various bodies and obtaining expert advice on the subject and then embodying the results in a working paper (Working Paper No. 47 - injuries to unborn children) published on 19 January 1973, which preceded their report (Cmnd 5709). Meanwhile a Royal Commission is considering much wider issues of civil liability for injury (including antenatal injury) but the terms of reference for the Law Commission were much narrower and confined to the position of children injured before birth. In the section relating to the present law the report makes it clear that it is probable that liability under the common law already exists.

    The Scottish Law Commission has also issued a report (Cmnd 5371). They were given different terms of reference and came to somewhat different conclusions.

    We are printing from this long report the paragraphs discussing the medical background and the summary of recommendations. As will be evident on reading the paragraphs on the medical background to injuries to the unborn child, events are moving very rapidly, particularly in the study of congenital defects and the effects of drugs but the problems of proof present great difficulty. Other causes of injury to the unborn child are better known to the general public: for example, those following the illness, infection and disease of the mother during pregnancy, injury caused in attempted termination of pregnancy and the risks resulting from the mother's condition. The summary of the recommendations sets out very clearly the legal position of the unborn child, as the Law Commission sees it, arising from injury before birth, the final conclusion being that `legislation is desirable'.

    These extracts from the report, apart from their intrinsic interest, lead on to the paper by Mr Kennedy and Dr Edwards in which they set out their criticisms of it, and provide quick references to the original document.

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