Sir James Munby: Caesarean mother case shows need for “radical change” in family courts, Claire Duffin, The Telegraph, December 2013

This was a case where a pregnant Italian woman with an alleged history of intermittent mental disorder, on a few week’s training course in Britain, was sectioned under their Mental Health Act, subjected to a court-ordered C-section and had British Social Services take over the baby’s custody the next day, and put it for forced adoption. The woman sued the British authorities from Italy, and the case was reported by journalist and well-known critic of UK child protection services in a report here. This kicked off a storm of controversy, which began and ended in an all too familiar pattern – public outrage, frantic leaking of seemingly contrary details of the case by the authorities, the gradual discrediting of the mother and her family, and the final announcement of a “happy” forced adoption, and pats on the back to child protection services for the “difficult” job they do taking people’s children away from them.

A month into the controversy, the President of the Family Division (the seniormost judge of the courts having jurisdiction over child care proceedings) declared in another judgement that this was a case in point for the need for transparency in the British family court system and that the public had a right to know all the details when State agencies were taking decisions about involuntary C-sections and forced adoption. These were his words quoted in the report:

“Given the circumstances of the case and the extreme gravity of the issues which here confronted the courts – whether to order an involuntary caesarean section and whether to place a child for adoption despite the protests of the mother – it is hard to imagine a case which more obviously and compellingly requires that public debate be free and unrestricted.”

When the case had wound its course from public outrage against to public support for Social Services’ actions a few weeks later, with the mother being said to have had repeated relapses of mental illness owing to her not taking her medication; her father reportedly making statements to reporters against her fitness to be a parent; her two other children being in the care of their grandmother; each of her three children being  from a different man; it was hard to imagine that the head of the British family courts would have spoken these words in such an apparently clear case of justifiable intervention by Social Services. That would have been rather incautious and hasty, qualities which Lord Justice James Munby has never demonstrated before or since.

Links to Christopher Booker’s report is here. Another Telegraph report on the case is here. Claims of inaccuracies in his reports are here and here. The judgment in the case which was finally released after Christopher Booker told the public about the case is here and also (if the link is not working) here. The court’s judgement confirming the baby’s adoption is here. Another report on this case is here.

On our reading, the so-called inaccuracies in Booker’s initial report, only changed this case from  one of brutalising mothers, to one of brutalising mentally-ill mothers. The mother did not want her child adopted away. 

She was functional enough to travel by herself and participate in training courses. She had access to her other two children who were with her mother. She was nice enough, and able enough to get her ex-husband to step in and offer to have the baby raised by his sister (the offer was refused because the Social Services said the sister was not a “blood relative”, but then, neither we the adoptive parents they had selected!). She was Italian. Even assuming the worst about her mental state, she should have been escorted back to Italy and her children placed in a situation where she could still be their mother, even if they did not live with her, whether in a home or with a relative.

Clearly her situation was not ideal – but cutting babies out of mother’s wombs and giving them to other people is not the answer for women and children in the position of this Italian woman and her baby. Those are problems that will require a reassessment of many modern, individualistic values that we all espouse.

In the meantime, we should all appreciate journalists like Christopher Booker who have plenty of other subjects to write about, who are willing to give these wretched and ignored parents a hearing. But Booker faces stiff opposition from the media and some judges against his work in this field. We have given links to a lot of reports by Booker on this website. At the very least, his work indicates all is not well with UK child protection services, and at the very least, we should be asking for full transparency in real time of care proceedings, so that we can judge for ourselves.