Scrap outdated infanticide law, say judges - Crime - UK - The Independent

Scrap outdated infanticide law, say judges

Three Court of Appeal judges have called for a review of the "outdated and unsatisfactory" law on infanticide after upholding the conviction of a mother for the murder of her baby.

Three Court of Appeal judges have called for a review of the "outdated and unsatisfactory" law on infanticide after upholding the conviction of a mother for the murder of her baby.

They raised concerns that vulnerable, mentally ill women are being given mandatory life sentences for killing their babies when they should have been treated more leniently.

The judges had rejected an appeal by 29-year-old Chaha'Oh-Niyol Kai-Whitewind against her conviction for murdering her 12-week old baby Bidziil. She had her case referred for appeal following the recent quashing of murder convictions against the "cot- death" mothers Sally Clark, Angela Cannings and Donna Anthony. But the Court of Appeal ruled that, unlike the other three cases, there was "ample" evidence that Ms Kai-Whitewind had murdered her baby.

She was convicted in 2003 of suffocating Bidziil when, the prosecution said, she became frustrated with his refusal to breastfeed and depressed at her failure to bond with him.

The trial was told the infant had been under a care order after suffering a broken leg while living with his mother and her boyfriend in Birmingham, and was returned to them just days before his death.

Ms Kai-Whitewind, who changed her name after adopting native American culture, had told a psychiatric nurse she had thought about killing the baby, who was conceived as a result of rape. Blood was found in the boy's nose and mouth, and his mother had delayed calling an ambulance after he stopped breathing.

But she denied having anything to do with his death, claiming it was from natural causes. She refused to give evidence or plead guilty to infanticide or manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Under the 1938 Infanticide Act, a woman who kills her child when it is less than a year old and "while the balance of her mind was disturbed by reason of the fact that she had not fully recovered from the effect of giving birth", should not be found guilty of murder.

Of the 49 women convicted of infanticide between 1989 and 2000, only two were jailed; the rest were given probation, supervision or hospital orders.

But because Ms Kai-Whitewind did not admit her guilt and refused to undergo psychiatric reports, she was convicted of murder and given a life sentence.

Giving their ruling yesterday, the deputy chief justice, Lord Justice Judge, sitting with Mrs Justice Hallett and Mr Justice Leveson, said her conviction was "safe". But Lord Justice Judge added: "The law relating to infanticide is unsatisfactory and outdated. The appeal in this sad case demonstrates the need for a thorough re-examination."

He said a "particular area of concern" was that the infanticide defence was restricted to a mother being affected by the actual birth and not subsequent events, such as a lack of bonding. He added: "The second problem arises when the mother who has in fact killed her infant is unable to admit it.

"This may be because she is too unwell to do so, or too emotionally disturbed by what she has in fact done, or too deeply troubled by the consequences of an admission of guilt on her ability to care for any surviving children. When this happens, it is sometimes difficult to produce psychiatric evidence relating to the balance of the mother's mind.

"Yet, of itself, it does not automatically follow from denial that the balance of her mind was not disturbed: in some cases it may indeed help to confirm that it was."

About five infanticide convictions a year are handed down in England and Wales. One in 500 new mothers suffers from puerperal psychosis, a severe form of mania which can result in them harming themselves or their babies. Most cases are now spotted before a tragic incident occurs.

But lawyers say some of the most vulnerable women are still being jailed by the criminal justice system. Helena Kennedy QC, who has defended several women accused of killing their children, said in an interview last year: "The problem in these cases is that unless a woman says 'I did it', you can't mount a psychiatric defence. You can't go behind her back and get a psychiatric report.

"The problem is that these women can't admit it to themselves, and they certainly can't admit it to their partners. The problem for the lawyer is getting the woman to acknowledge it herself. It's complex."

Until 1922, the killing of a child was a capital offence, but juries had become so sympathetic to women accused in such cases that the first infanticide law was brought in to cover newborn babies. In 1938, it was extended to the killing by a mother of babies up to a year old.

Homicide of children under one is greater than that of any other age group, four times higher than the murder rate in the population. Countries such as Sweden now ask a panel of doctors to try such cases, rather than a judge and jury.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week