Clinical Negligence & Catastrophic Injury Solicitors
Decision awaited in foetal alcohol injury claim.
A landmark case at the Court of Appeal is to decide if a girl born with growth retardation, caused by her mother's heavy drinking during pregnancy, should receive compensation.
A local authority in North West England is seeking criminal injuries compensation for care of the girl, now aged six, who was born with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) - the symptoms of which include growth, facial abnormalities and intellectual impairment.
Lawyers representing the local authority are trying to prove that the child’s mother committed a crime under the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861. It emerged in January they had failed to win compensation on the child's behalf from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).
However, a written ruling by the Upper Tribunal of the Administrative Appeals Chamber said the child’s disorder was a 'direct result' of her mother's drinking. The syndrome was diagnosed 252 times in England between 2012 and 2013.
If the Court of Appeal agrees that the mother committed a crime, it could pave the way for a pregnant woman's behaviour to be criminalised.
However, two women's charities have warned that such a ruling could 'seriously undermine women's autonomy while pregnant and their freedom to make decisions for themselves'. They say that the case is of 'profound social significance' and could establish a legal precedent, which could be used to prosecute women who drink while pregnant.
There are fears it could mean other aspects of women's behaviour - such as medication taken during pregnancy or their choice of childbirth - could also have damning implications.
Charities also fear women with addictions could choose to abort their unborn children rather than face criminal prosecution.
Chief executive of British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), Ann Furedi and co-chair of Birthrights, Rebecca Schiller, said: 'Making one particular form of behaviour during pregnancy into a criminal offence would lay the ground for criminalising a wide range of other behaviours because they may too pose a risk to the health of the baby.'
The charities claim that there is 'continuing uncertainty' in the medical profession over the relationship between drinking and harm to the foetus and that mothers and their babies would not be best served by treating pregnant women with drug or alcohol abuse problems as criminals.