Forced caesarean

Secret court decision – child protection

A story hit the headlines which seemed to suggest that a 35 year-old woman from Italy who is living in the south east of England was forced by a secret court to have a Caesarean section and then the baby was placed for adoption the news report hit the front pages of several newspapers. It seems like a truly shocking story involving shady details of courts without public access, details which were difficult to come by and legal rulings which lacked context and any member of the general public would struggle to understand.

The background to the story seems to be that a 35-year old professional woman from Italy who was living and working in the United Kingdom suffered short term mental illness, and the Mental Capacity Act was invoked to protect her. The fact that the woman was also pregnant heightened the issues involved, although unborn children can’t be subject to a plan of child protection under UK law.

It would seem that following concerns from medical professionals about the safety of the unborn child, the Court Of Protection ( the court which arbitrates over personal welfare decisions affecting people lacking mental capacity ) ruled that the unborn child should be delivered by Caesarian section. The woman, subject to deprivation of liberty proceedings objected to this but the Court Of Protection ruled against her.

Once delivered, the baby was made subject to a plan of child protection and care proceedings initiated. Trough this process Children’s Services decided that the child’s best interests would best be served through a plan of adoption which was started. It appears from the story as reported in the Press that the woman eventually recovered from her mental breakdown and the deprivation of liberty ceased. Once the woman recovered and was released from Mental Capacity Act processes she returned to Italy.

Once she had returned to Italy the woman’s family started to ask questions about the ethics of the British courts which had made the decisions in relation to her detention and the child’s adoption. In a parallel move, Lord Munby, the President Of the Family Division of the High Court, openly questioned the reasons why the plan of adoption was thus, and ruled that further moves towards a plan of adoption must be brought before him in the High Court.

Lord Munby is well known for questioning the speed and secrecy of the Court Of Protection and the family courts – a controversial view point. He recently expressed a view that Family Courts should be held in public, the rulings should be open to public scrutiny, that social workers should be named in public and families should be able to talk to the media about rulings.

The local authority in the case, Essex Children’s Services, made at statement saying that health trust in Essex had applied to the court for an order to secure the safe delivery of the baby following concerns about a direct risk of safety to the mother and the unborn child. Essex County Council also are clear that the courts in Italy were aware of proceedings and te Council had worked closely with the woman’s family and had communicated effectively with the woman’s contacts in Italy.
Source : Mail on Sunday