Letter: Courts allow the abuse of patients

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Sir: The decision of the President of the Family Division to starve a woman to death ("Legal confusion as coma woman allowed to die", 22 March) is disgraceful. It is one of a long line of cases in which the Family Division, often encouraged by the Official Solicitor, has sanctioned abuses of defenceless patients. The Official Solicitor has been particularly active in urging courts to impose forced obstetric intervention on vulnerable pregnant women: the judges always agree.

Last year, Mr Justice Wall ordered that force could be used on a woman detained in a mental hospital, to impose an induced labour or a Caesarean. The Official Solicitor argued for the use of force on his own client under the Mental Health Act 1983. The judge's reasoning for this barbarism was that a Caesarean was treatment for the woman's mental disorder: a decision derided by many legal critics. This is the man who ordered an anorexic teenager to be locked up a few days ago.

What is particularly sinister is the anonymity afforded by the court to the hospital and the doctors in this latest case, as in so many others. If state hospitals want to kill or otherwise abuse their patients, they should be forced to bring their cases into open court, in the Queen's Bench Division. The patient should have independent, civil liberties lawyers acting for him or her: not the Official Solicitor. Then the abuses perpetrated by secretive family courts would grind to a halt.

BARBARA M. HEWSON

Gray's Inn

London WC1

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