Lessons learned from the ‘Forced C-section’ case

3 December 2013 by

Pregnant-woman-001Updated 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) [2013] EWHC 4378 (COP) (23 August 2012). This document and other information which has come to light has prompted two excellent (and damning) blog posts:

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  1. Roya Azal says:

    You are missing one important fact, and that is that forced cesarians and forced adoptions are cruel. It is the cruelty of it all that evades the “legal specialists”. In other words: You are heartless. And while you are heartless and engage in your legal banter, cases such as this and much worse is happening. So, people start to dislike you. You – that is the “legal profession” in the UK, you, the legal professionals who make abuse legal.

  2. David Lamming says:

    A note by Mostyn J, commenting his decision, together with a transcript of his short judgment and of the hearing on 23 August 2012, has now been published on the BAILII website: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/COP/2013/B23.html
    It will be seen that most of the uninformed criticism of the decision to allow the doctors to deliver baby P by C-section was ill-founded.

    1. Serlo says:

      The link is for the wrong case:

    2. tyelko says:

      Wrong link, it seems. But I read the actual one. http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/COP/2013/4378.html

      There are still plenty of questions such as whether the consulate was informed and whether she indeed was so sick she could not be consulted. And if yes, whether that was a natural consequence of her bipolar disorder or of a misdiagnosis by the NHS. The hearing protocol cites: “MISS BURNHAM: My Lord, it is said that she suffers from a schizophrenic disorder, which is psychotic in nature and she is currently under section 3. My Lord, that is as detailed as the identification of the disorder goes. It is in the report of Dr. Adimulam, which is at your clip 4. It is the second document entitled “private and confidential”.”

      So they were under the impression that she was psychotic.and did not have any more detailed information. They were evidently not aware that she suffered from bipolar disorder, as they say that “psychotic” is “as detailed as the identification of the disorder goes”.
      Makes you wonder if they actually treated her for schizophrenia all this time instead of severe bipolar depression with psychotic features.

  3. unlimitednow says:

    I have been trained to work with people with Bi polar disorder and it is per say NOT a mental illness. Three physical conditions caused by chemical and hormone imbalance have marked psychological effects. Two of these Bi Polar and Hypothyroidism are controlled by medication and sufferers lead normal lives. . What happened to this poor Italian woman and her child is the stuff of horror movies. I am deeply concerned that she will have suffered psychological damage due to this cruel and inhuman treatment meted out by UK State. What sort of oppressive State has Britain become that treats vulnerable women in this appalling way?

  4. Amala says:

    In the end a judge gave permission to perform a C section without the mother’s consent. This is fact. This is terrifying and surely a breach of the mother’s Human Rights.

  5. Great write up on this. The entire case was so awful and disgusting, and it’s just sickening to know that we live in a world where human rights are so blatantly squashed on this often. Hopefully the entire incident and case will prevent future issues like this from happening, and maybe people will learn from it.

  6. The operation without telling the mother of the doctor’s intentions was cruel indeed ;but far worse was the successful application by Essex to send the baby to forced adoption by strangers !Such a permanent separation from the mother and also the father,the grandmother,and the sister in law who all offered separately to be carers and from two half sisters eager to meet the new baby was both cruel and unecessary.There is absolutely no valid reason why an Italian baby with an extended italian family should not be dealt with in Italy by italian social services.UK social workers do not seem to trust social workers n other countries;Maybe because forced adoption either does not exist or is very very rare in the rest of europe.

    1. tyelko says:

      Actually, it does exist, included in Italy, BUT they will put the child in pre-adoption foster care for a period and only after observing the situation for a while is the decision to go through with an adoption made. That way, it can be assured that the situation is not made hastily. While the mother has had problems in the past, with her previous children given into the care of their grandmother, that is not to say she cannot get her act together. The fact that she attended a Ryanair training course suggests she was trying to put her life together. Alas, after this ordeal, she’s now taking care of an elderly couple… but at least gainfully employed.

  7. John Allman says:

    There remains, surely, the small matter that a non-consensual C section, is both cruel and, to say the least, unusual.

    1. Serlo says:

      Perhaps she should check that she hasn’t been sterilised whilst unconcious? That happened to a huge number of Roma women in the Czech Republic….

  8. Johanna says:

    I’m glad to find out the case may not have been QUITE as barbaric as billed … but I am still deeply troubled by the implication, especially in Evan Harris’ commentary, that this could be justified because of the woman’s psychiatric diagnosis: “The woman has a bipolar condition and courts have been told that she is affected by ‘manic episodes’ and paranoid delusions if she fails to take medication.”

    Remember, this is a woman who arrived in the UK at her employer’s expense to take training related to her airline job! Even if she did have a “bipolar condition” do those words erase her rights and ease our fears of a potential horrible injustice to the child as well? Who is in charge of deciding her “future risks”? What is the evidence that she committed this apparently ultimate crime of “failing to take medication”? And if so, did anyone bother to ask her why?

    As one who has lived with diagnoses and medications (often conflicting, and sometimes actively harmful) I shudder to think that we’re approaching a system where any of us can be ordered to take whatever drugs “social services” thinks are appropriate … or else. Neither the drugs nor the diagnoses are sent down from God, and both can be terribly ill-advised.

    1. tyelko says:

      Not to mention that by now, she has no airline job but is taking care of an elderly couple. It might well be that this whole episode not only ruined affected her family life but made it that much harder to professionally make a step forward either.

  9. Adam points out certain facts that he says “do not ring true” but nobody has proved otherwise ;Those who complain about booker say he is innaccurate but never point out any definite errors except for one judge who later admitted that the error he found was on my website on Friday well before the Booker article (without the error) was publishe on Sunday in the Sunday telegraph !
    I talked to the italian lady in question by phone last week and at her request passed on her name and contacts to booker and other journalists as she hopes that the publicity might ensure the rescue of her baby from forced adoption and its return to her;
    Judge newland has published his judgement on Bailii .He ,like me was mightily impressed by her mastery of english and her calm and logical demeanor in court.Alas however he ignored munby guidelines and because she could possibly relapse in future, sent the baby for forced adoption by strangers without explaining why it was not possible to give the child to the sister in law in new york,the father of the child in italy or the grandmother also in italy as all three had offered to be carers.This lady passed he two week course for Ryanair cabin crew ,was working before she came to uk and is fully employed as a housekeeper now;She was kept isolated froom her consulate or a solicitor or doctor of her choice without being informed of her legal right to appel for a discharge to an independent tribunal;as soon as she had the baby she was packed off to italy without her child .Icall that barbarism !

  10. tyelko says:

    I believe it is most definitely a case of human rights abuse towards the child, as it is forced to take on British nationality without need. The baby already has a nationality: As the child of an Italian, it is itself an Italian. Whereas for it to be British, a parent would have to be settled in the UK, which isn’t the case. The child should, as a minimum, have been given into the custody of Italian authorities. As for Judge Newton, the judge acknowledges that the mother has fully recovered. As for the speculation of not taking the medication in future, as this would be conduct happening in Italy, I do not see how it is within Judge Newton’s authority to pass judgment on the conduct of an Italian in Italy. The court is in my eyes overstepping its jurisdiction in the case.

  11. David Lamming says:

    The judgment of Judge Newton at Chelmsford County Court on 1 February 2013, making a placement order and dispensing with the parents’ consent to the adoption of P, was also published this morning on BAILII: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/Misc/2013/20.html

    The judgment does not set out all the evidence, but there must a question mark over whether Judge Newton’s decision is sustainable in the light of Re B [2013] 1 WLR 1911 (SC) and Re B-S [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 (CA), both of which cases were decided after Re P.

    In order to inform the debate on this case, it is surely vital that Munby P now authorises the release of the 23 August 2012 judgment of Mostyn J in the Court of Protection by which he gave permission for birth by C-section: see para 7 of Judge Newton’s judgment.

  12. William Benson says:

    And when Mumby, who is demanding transparency in the corrupt Family Courts, confirms the abuses in this case (like 1000s of others) will you apologise directly to everyone you have slated?

  13. Parmenides says:

    People moan about Booker all the time but he’s at least giving these issues prominence and is fighting with the same lack of factual information as everyone else.

    What is it with these courts that everything has to be so secret? It’s a secrecy that protects all the wrong people. Everything’s emerging now. Why?

    Nobody in England trusts social services any longer. That’s why the mockers went up and everyone kept schtum.

  14. truthaholics says:

    Whatever Lord Justice Munby may decide, enough facts have been exposed in this case to flag it up as draconian, hence it would be wise to remind ourselves of the perils of arbitrary state intervention as British family justice risks being brought into disrepute here, within and without our shores.

    Given that state intervention exists to alleviate not perpetuate the misery of suffering children, as a last not first resort, it is hard to see how an unborn foetus could possibly be documented to be at risk of significant harm from her own mother when she is already parenting two older siblings, and habitually resident abroad.

    Adequately justifying this on the basis of a panic attack she had whilst visiting this country in line with her work for a fortnight, raises a real bone of contention in the court of public opinion.

    Perhaps a more precise definition of risk of harm in the CA 1989 s31 threshold test is overdue, in line with downsizing disproportionality and the bringing the pendulum back in favour of less interventionism as recent case law indicates and Parliament always intended.

    This may serve to filter out the wheat from the chaff, and distinguish genuine cases of warranted child protection concerns from more exaggerated cases where risk is being hyped-up and projected to avert setting in motion an often irreversible chain of events resulting in splitting families up who should be kept together simply with a little assistance.

  15. Lucy Series says:

    Hi Adam,

    Great piece, and Lucy Reed’s is fantastic. I absolutely agree with you that this case demonstrates why published judgments are so important – to quell rumour and speculation. It is not only the Telegraph and the Mail, though, whose reports are filled with inaccuracies, even the Guardian’s coverage has been pretty suspect (although they have been quicker than most to rectify the line that ‘social workers’ applied for the caesarean). The case does raise profound human rights issues – the allegation that she was not notified is especially concerning, and I think in itself – if true – would have merited a published judgment.

    I do worry that the case is being hijacked by various vested interests. I hope it isn’t adding to the woman’s distress.

    1. William Benson says:

      Read Hemmings’ blog if you want to know what the woman thinks – http://johnhemming.blogspot.com/

      Also, the Italian version of Liberty have got involved. If you think this is just a hijacking you clearly have not been paying attention to the Family Courts.

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