Updated x 2 | Journalist Christopher Booker reported in Saturday’s Telegraph that an Italian woman was forced by Essex County Council social services to have a cesarean section, and then had her baby taken away from her – all sanctioned by the Court of Protection.
The story has become international news. I was going to write in detail on this, but family law barrister Lucy Reed has done a much better job than I would have been able to do. Her blog is here. Essex County Council have also released a statement of facts, which is here. I also recommend Elizabeth Prochaska and Suesspicious Minds.
I will keep this very simple. It was pretty obvious, based on Christopher Booker and John Hemming’s form (see my blog from 2011), that we were only getting a partial view of the story.
Both are vocal campaigners against the secrecy of the family courts and “abuses” by social workers. I take no issue with that campaign. The Court of Appeal recently explained, in very strong language, why those who complain about human rights abuses in ‘forced adoption’ cases are often right.
But, I do take issue with the mangled and partial way in which this case was reported by the Telegraph and Booker. It was patently obvious to lawyers reading his article, which is presented as objective fact, that there were aspects which didn’t ring true.
Like the fact that the entire incident, leading to her being section under mental health laws, was prompted by her having “something of a panic attack when she couldn’t find the passports for her two daughters“. Or that the forced c-section happened after she “volubly protested” about not receiving her breakfast. Or that the social workers themselves were “given permission” by the High Court to arrange for the child to be delivered by c-section.
It seems that Lord Justice Munby, the President of the family courts, has now taken over the case and I expect we will hear quite a bit more about it through a public judgment.
Lessons learned? First, I would say that we have learned not to trust the Telegraph’s reporting of legal cases, but readers of this blog should have learned that lesson already. This story was reported from the perspective of the woman’s lawyers without qualification or clarification. Booker’s original article reads like a factual summary, not responsible journalism which would have involved careful calibration of the known facts with reference to their potentially unreliable source.
Second, the Court of Protection needs to publish more judgments. Lord Justice Munby has said as much and this case is a prime example of why this needs to be sorted out now, before the next Booker/Hemming outrage-a-thon is launched. If there had been a judgment published in one of the apparently numerous hearings in this case, we could have found it on Saturday and countered the Booker piece. Or Booker himself may have been able to add balance to his story, rather than relying uncritically on the account of the woman’s lawyers.
Finally, is this a case of a grave human rights abuse, or of a reasonable response by social services and treating doctors in a case involving a pregnant woman with severe mental health problems? It could still be either – crucially, although Essex have said there were “risks to mother and child”, we don’t know what those were. Hopefully, Lord Justice Munby will do his job and we can make up our minds with the full picture in view.
Update 15:30, 3/12/13 - The Judiciary website has published a transcript of a ruling from His Honour Judge Newton dated 1 February 2013, which provides a lot more detail. Also, this blog by Evan Harris, a former MP, medical doctor and campaigner for press responsibility, is excellent.
Update 2, 11:20, 5/12/13 - More information now from Mr Justice Mostyn, who has published a transcript from 23 August 2012, and included a handy note too – see AA, Re (Including: Note By Mr Justice Mostyn)  EWHC 4378 (COP) (23 August 2012). This document and other information which has come to light has prompted two excellent (and damning) blog posts:
- Booker, Hemming and the “forced caesarian” case: a masterclass in Flat Earth news - Carl Gardner
- Update on the Essex C-Section case - Lucy Reed
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