The horror and absurdity of an adoption that sounds as if it came from fiction
Opinion: Judge in High Court in Rome has expressed outrage at treatment of woman
A pregnant woman, who travels from one European country to another to undertake a training course, seeks help for a medical difficulty and wakes up in a hospital bed to find her baby girl has been removed by Caesarean section and taken into care. Later, she learns that the child has been put up for adoption.
If you imagine this is the implausible synopsis of some dystopian screenplay, think again. It occurred within the past two years in Britain, under the auspices of Essex County Council.
The woman, an Italian who travelled to Britain to undertake a training course at Stansted Airport, was suffering from the condition known as bipolar disorder. Following an episode which resulted from her discontinuing her prescribed medicine for this condition (due to her pregnancy), she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Essex and sectioned under the Mental Health Act. One morning some weeks later, she found herself being strapped down and forcibly sedated. Hours later, she awoke in a different hospital and realised that her baby had been removed by Caesarean section. The baby girl was subsequently the subject of a care order and placed for adoption.
The outline facts of the case were reported last Sunday in the Sunday Telegraph, following investigative work by the indefatigable Christopher Booker. It has received minimal attention in the Irish media.
On Tuesday evening last, I contacted Essex County Council to obtain its side of the story. In a written statement, the council claimed that the mother has two other children in Italy which she is unable to care for “due to orders made by the Italian authorities”. Lawyers connected with the case say, however, that the two children are being brought up by the mother’s parents, who live across the road from their daughter, who has suffered a series of psychiatric difficulties.
The council claimed its social workers had “liaised extensively with the extended family before and after the birth of the baby, to establish if anyone could care for the child”. According to lawyers familiar with the case, proposals from the mother’s family were rejected by the council.
The council also claimed that the mother “applied to Italian courts for an order to return the child to Italy in May 2013, but that the court ruled that the child “should remain in England”. In fact, the judge in the high court in Rome expressed outrage at what had befallen an Italian citizen who was habitually resident in Italy, but concluded that his hands were tied because the woman had not argued the issue of jurisdiction at the relevant time.
To call this a Catch 22 would be to trivialise the mother’s situation and risk understating the absurdity of it. At all relevant times, the woman had little idea what was happening and was legally represented by lawyers assigned to her by Essex County Council. The authorities argue that she was not competent to care for her unborn child, and yet during the period of her incapacity they seized her child and put it up for adoption, denying her any subsequent recourse on the basis that she failed at the time to invoke the total range of her legal entitlements.
Later on Tuesday evening I received a further statement from Essex County Council informing me that due to “the increasing intensive media interest” the council was applying for a reporting restriction order “to preserve the privacy of this baby’s family life because of the long-term consequences of publication and the enduring nature of information on the internet and in social media”.
On Wednesday, Essex County Council’s application was rejected by the English high court. The judge who had ordered the Caesarean procedure, Mr Justice Mostyn, agreed to the publication of his judgment and a transcript of the August 2012 hearing of the court of protection (a special court which deals with cases involving people alleged to lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves). Then, with the entire English legal system coming under mounting international scrutiny, further details were published, including the name of the mother, a 35-year-old from Tuscany.
Danger of rupturing
The court papers record evidence that the woman’s two previous children had been delivered by Caesarean section and that obstetricians caring for her had been concerned that she was in danger of rupturing unless her third baby was delivered in the same way. It emerges also that Judge Mostyn refused an application from Essex County Council to have police officers on hand during the birth with a view to taking the child immediately into care. This would be “heavy handed” and likely to be “distressing” to the mother.
The Italian government has now instructed its own team of lawyers with a view to challenging the adoption of the baby girl. Sir James Munby, president of the family courts division, has reserved the case to himself, which means that all future proceedings will come before him.