The Court of Appeal is due to hear a case involving a six-year-old girl who was born with disabilities caused by her mother drinking while she was pregnant. This case could result in the little girl being awarded criminal injuries compensation.
If this case, brought about by a council in the north-west of England, is successful, it could prompt dozens more being awarded compensation for foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
Two leading women’s charities have however warned that this could set a legal precedent whereby women who drink while pregnant could be prosecuted.
Legal counsel for the council is seeking to prove that the mother’s excessive drinking during pregnancy was a violent crime which should be given recognition under the Government’s Criminal Injuries Compensation scheme. This scheme awards compensation to those who have been hurt by a violent crime.
Charities, Birthrights and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) have stated that this is a case of ‘profound social significance’. They said that any legal developments which ‘call into question a pregnant woman’s fundamental right to bodily autonomy’ should be viewed in a very serious light.
However, GLP Solicitors’ Neil Sugarman said this case would not result in the criminalisation of women.
He said for this to be recognised by the scheme, the drinking habits of a pregnant woman would have to be excessive and continued even after warnings have been given regarding the baby’s health. He added that even in the event that the case is successful, it was not likely that the Crown Prosecution Service would have ‘the will or the resources’ to prosecute mothers on these grounds.
He added that they are only asking for the Court of Appeal to accept that the child’s mother’s drinking is a criminal act, and is not about criminalising women.
After the change of rules during November 2012, the Government no longer offers compensation for FAS applications. However, this girl’s claim was submitted prior to this date. GLP Solicitors are representing several other children involved in FAS claims.
Foetal alcohol syndrome includes a range of conditions, such as intellectual impairment, heart defects, kidney defects and stunted growth.
Image Credit: Brett L.