Prisoner wins right to fight for baby

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The Independent Online
A FEMALE prisoner won the right yesterday to launch a High Court challenge to prevent her new-born baby being taken into care.

The 24-year-old inmate gave birth to a girl on Tuesday night and is attempting to block the decision to refuse her a place in Holloway Prison's mother and baby unit.

In what is the first case of its kind, three appeal court judges ruled that the woman was entitled to permission to argue that she had been the victim of procedural unfairness within the prison system.

Lord Justice Schiemann, sitting with Lord Justice Thorpe and Lord Justice Brooke, urged that mother and baby should not be parted until the court had considered the case.

Lord Justice Thorpe said only when there were the most extreme defects in the natural parent should a child be denied the opportunity to bond with its mother.

Yet, he said, minutes of a meeting at which Holloway prison decided to deny the woman a place in the specialist unit suggested there had been no consideration of the 1986 Children Act. The north London prison had refused the woman a place in the unit because of her alleged violent and disruptive behaviour.

Studying the requirements for admission to the mother and baby unit, Lord Justice Thorpe said: "The five stated considerations seem to me a very poor summary of what that statute [the Children Act] seeks to achieve for children in our society.

"The reality under Children Act legislation is that the separation of mother and child at this stage, to deny the child the opportunity of making the psychological bond with the mother, is a course which is only ordered in the most extreme cases where defects in the natural parent are so grave that the interests and welfare of the child would otherwise be jeopardised."

Eleanor Grey, representing the Home Secretary as responsible for Holloway Prison, conceded that there was no suggestion that the woman fell into that category.

But she said there had to be a balance between the rights of the child and the welfare and safety of other mothers and babies in the unit.

Leon Daniel, acting for the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, sought a judicial review of the case. The Appeal Court judges yesterday granted him leave and it will be heard next Thursday.

Both mother and baby are to stay in the Whittington Hospital in north London until Monday.