The child was taken from the 35-year-old Italian in forced caesarean
The case shines light on murky secrecy of Court of Protection
Seeking answers: The judge who heads the family courts, Sir James Munby, has demanded to know why the girl should not be reunited with her mother
Social workers who made a mother give up her baby after a forced caesarean must explain themselves to Britain’s top family judge.
In a highly unusual intervention, Sir James Munby has demanded to know why the girl should not be reunited with her mother, a 35-year-old Italian.
Fabio Roia, the most senior judge in Milan, said the woman’s treatment by a secret court resembled a horror film – an unprecedented ‘act of extreme violence’ that could not have happened in Italy.
The mother, who was suffering from a mental illness, was subjected to a caesarean on the orders of the controversial Court of Protection.
Her ex-husband and her parents, who look after her two other children, insisted they would care for the girl. But, in a second secret hearing, a court ruled that her girl should be removed from her care for adoption by a British family.
Campaigners said it was wrong for a closed-doors court to force a foreign citizen to have an invasive medical procedure and seize her child against her will.
The extraordinary case will lead to growing calls for the courts involved in the case to be opened to public scrutiny. There was also intense criticism of the children’s services officials in Essex.
Shami Chakrabarti, of the Liberty pressure group, said: ‘At first blush this is dystopian science fiction unworthy of a democracy like ours. Forced surgery and separation of mother and infant is the stuff of nightmares that those responsible will struggle to defend in courts of law and decency.’
Bipolar UK, the charity that helps people with the illness affecting the mother, condemned the decision by a Court of Protection judge. ‘The forced caesarean and continued separation of mother and child is, we believe, unprecedented,’ it said.
‘But officials should make every effort to consult with the family before decisions are taken.’
The woman arrived in England last summer, while pregnant, for a training course at Stansted airport. During her stay she suffered an episode of ill health, and was sectioned.
The newborn was taken into state care on the orders of a judge in the notoriously secretive Court of Protection, despite the mother's pleas to be allowed to raise her. File picture
County court judges, again in secret hearings, backed social workers who immediately took the mother’s newborn into care.
At a county court hearing in Chelmsford in February this year Judge Roderick Newton heard the mother beg that she should not lose her child for ever.
The judge ruled the girl should be placed for adoption – even though he accepted that the mother was well, successfully taking medication and had a job.
He said the mother might stop taking her drugs and the family offers were ‘not a starter’.
Sir James Munby, who is the President of the Family Division of the High Court, ordered yesterday that further moves towards adoption must be heard before him in the High Court.
Shami Chakrabarti, of the Liberty pressure group, said: 'This is dystopian science fiction unworthy of a democracy like ours.' Right, Lib Dem MP John Hemming is a long-standing campaigner against court secrecy
Sir James, who took over the family courts in January, has made a series of judgments and speeches demanding greater openness in family hearings and in the Court of Protection.
He has said family hearings should be held in public, that social workers should be named in court, and that families who feel wronged should be able to speak out publicly.
John Hemming, the Lib Dem MP who has campaigned for open justice, said: ‘I welcome the transfer of the case from Chelmsford County Court to the High Court in front of the President of the Family Division. The appointment is a very positive step.’
The case has amazed Italian experts. Ernesto Caffo, of the charity Telefono Azzuro, said: ‘It is a story that defies all logic.
‘Mental illness requires special care in a delicate period such as pregnancy. But women who suffer from it generally carry their child full term and are then, if necessary, given support in their role as parents.’
In a statement, Essex children’s services said a health trust had applied for the forced caesarean after telling social workers it had concerns over risks to the health of mother and baby. It said Italian courts had been made aware of the case and ‘social workers liaised extensively with the extended family.