High Court’s top family judge intervenes in forced caesarean case

Essex Council has said the child, which was removed from mother’s womb against her will, is to be adopted, but top judge has now said any further applications must be heard by him

The country's top family judge has intervened in the case of a woman who had her unborn child forcibly removed from her womb by caesarean section under a court order obtained by social services.

The woman, originally from Italy, was visiting the UK on a work trip when she she suffered a panic attack after failing to take medication for bipolar disorder.

She was taken to a psychiatric hospital and sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Five weeks later, the baby was removed from her womb without her consent.

She returned to Britain in February to request the return of her daughter, who is now 15 months old, but was told at Chelmsford Crown Court that the toddler was to be put up for adoption in case the mother suffered a relapse.

In an unusual intervention, Sir James Munby, the High Court’s President of the Family Division has now said that any further applications in the case must pass through the High Court.

A spokesman for the Judiciary said: “The proceedings are not yet concluded. The President of the Family Division has ordered that the matter be transferred to the High Court and any further applications in respect of the child are to be heard by him.”

Earlier, Essex County Council issued said in a statement: “The long-term safety and wellbeing of children is always Essex County Council's priority. Adoption is never considered until we have exhausted all other options and is never pursued lightly.”

Social services obtained an interim care order from Chelmsford county court in August 2012 “because the mother was too unwell to care for her child”, the council said.

Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming has taken up the mother's case and said that he welcomed the transfer of the case to the High Court in London.

“The appointment of the president of the family division was a very positive step and I am certain that any applications to him will be heard justly,” he said.

Mr Hemming also questioned why the child had not been passed into the care of the woman’s ex-husband and parents, who look after her two older children. He criticised Essex council for failing “to follow proper proceedings”.

“The rules are straightforward when it comes to foreign nationals and care proceedings,” he said.

“The foreign country concerned should be contacted through their central authority (in Italy's case part of the Justice Ministry). This clearly did not happen and for this Essex County Council are clearly in the wrong.

“Essex have not managed to explain why no-one in the wider extended family was competent to look after the baby when they were already looking after two of her siblings.

“Additionally Essex have not explained why this baby was in their control to get adopted when the mother always intended to return to Italy.”

Essex County Council said: “Historically, the mother has two other children which she is unable to care for due to orders made by the Italian authorities.

“In accordance with Essex County Council's Social Services practice, social workers liaised extensively with the extended family before and after the birth of the baby, to establish if anyone could care for the child.”