The news regarding a high profile compensation battle for a child living with the effects of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome has once again hit the headlines.
The court case surrounds the delicate issue of drinking alcohol whilst pregnant and endangering an unborn child in the process
A council in the North-West of England is hoping to prove that the mother of a six year old child, now cared for by foster parents, has committed a violent crime under section 23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. The ancient act deals with unlawfully and maliciously administering poison in order to endanger another’s life. The aim is to prove that the mother poisoned her unborn child by drinking alcohol whilst pregnant and obtain compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) on behalf of the child.
The controversy encompassing the court battle has been that CICA contested the compensation pay out on the grounds that the actions of the mother were not actually criminal. However, the local authority challenged this by appealing and outlining that there had been a crime under section 23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. This was then challenged further by CICA, where it was ruled that no crime had been committed as the unborn foetus did not represent a person under the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861. Following this, the local authority appealed to the Court of Appeal, which remarkably has been accepted. If the outcome of this landmark court battle is favourable it could set a precedent for further claims
Although the advice from the Department of Health in the UK tells pregnant women to avoid alcohol, it is not actually a crime to drink it whilst pregnant. The advice concentrates on a healthy lifestyle for mother and child. However, in the US it is a different matter altogether. Alcohol and drug misuse is actually deemed a criminal offence whilst pregnant.
Drinkaware.co.uk says that children who are born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome often have noticeable facial features such as: small and narrow eyes, a small head, a smooth area between the nose and the lips and a thin upper lip. They can also show the following symptoms:
- Hearing and ear problems
- Mouth, teeth and facial problems
- Weak immune system
- Liver damage
- Kidney and heart defects
- Cerebral palsy and other muscular problems
- Height and weight issues
- Hormonal disorders
Christopher Livingston, personal injury and clinical negligence solicitor at Blackwater Law commented “This is an interesting case that will have to balance the rights of the individual, the state and the ethics of how you treat an unborn child.”