Ex-midwife Lisa Barrett not guilty of baby manslaughter

A former South Australian midwife charged over the deaths of two babies during home births has been found not guilty of two counts of manslaughter.

In the first case of its kind in Australia, Lisa Barrett, 52, pleaded not guilty over the deaths of Tully Kavanagh in 2011 and another baby boy in 2012, who cannot be identified.

In the Supreme Court on Tuesday Justice Ann Vanstone cleared her on both counts.

"While I have found that the accused's conduct in relation to the labours of both women fell short of that of a reasonably competent midwife, in neither case has it been proved beyond reasonable doubt to be grossly or culpably negligent," Justice Vanstone said.

"Although I find that the accused's conduct was less than competent, I am not satisfied that her conduct merits criminal sanction.

"My verdict in relation to each count is not guilty."

Lisa Barrett outside court on Tuesday. Picture: AAP / Keryn Stevens
Lisa Barrett outside court on Tuesday. Picture: AAP / Keryn Stevens

Barrett had been hired to provide antenatal and labour assistance for both women.

Tully was the second of twins born at her parent's home on October 7, 2011, but died two days later. The other unnamed baby was born at home 15 months later on December 30, 2012 and died after his life support was turned off the following day.

At trial, prosecutors alleged Barrett had failed to tell either mother of "the true dangers they were facing" and had deliberately "downplayed the risks" of their high-risk births.

Sandi McDonald SC said Barrett was criminally negligent because she failed to properly advise the women of the risks prior to birth, or the urgent need to transfer to hospital when further problems were encountered during their labours.

She said the two babies had "died as a direct result of the manner in which they were born at home and Barrett's gross negligence meant neither baby was alive today".

"As these babies tried to struggle their way through birth and in the process started to die, the accused made no efforts to save them either by telling the mothers of the true dangers they were facing, or by advising the mothers of the need to get to hospital as a matter of urgency if there was any hope of the children surviving," Ms McDonald said.

During Tully's birth, she said Barrett was "calm, composed and almost casual in her approach" despite Tully's plummeting heart rate and had gone outside to smoke a cigarette as she called the Women's and Children's Hospital to advise Ms Kerr would be attending.

Barrett was no longer a registered midwife at the time of the offences, having handed her registration in, and instead called herself a birth advocate.

Laws have since been changed in South Australia banning anyone other than a registered medical practitioner or midwife from assisting a labour or birth.

Barrett had denied responsibility for the deaths of the two babies, arguing their mothers' decision to choose a homebirth had "led to both of them losing their babies".

In closing submissions, Scott Henchliffe, for Barrett, said there "was no law that made anything that Barrett did, that we have heard about in this case, illegal".

He said the two mother's whose babies died had "self-serving memories" of their pregnancies and births and held Barrett responsible for the outcomes.

"The decision to homebirth was their own and in the most general sense it was that decision which, when the risks eventuated, led to both them losing their babies," he said.

"It's only human nature for them to seek to put themselves in the light where they carry less guilt or blame or responsibility for what ultimately occurred."