Mumsnet and the Naughty Step.
I have been contacted by a number of people to ask why I have been put on the naughty step by Mumsnet.
There are a number of online fora in which I debate issues relevant to public policy. One is mumsnet.com another one is netmums.com.
On Mumsnet there is poster whose user id is "spero". She happens to be a family court barrister who tweets as SVPhillimore.
She and I have had a few disagreements in the past which are not worth going into. However, I posted the link above (the twitter link) on the mumsnet forum and a couple of other similar twitter links which were linking to the debate. Mumsnet then suspended my account saying:
We're getting in touch as we've received a couple of reports about your posts on the 'child taken from the womb' thread, http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/in_the_news/a1938715-Child-taken-from-womb-Truth-into-darkness.
It is against our talk guidelines (http://www.mumsnet.com/info/netiquette) to post information which would 'out' a poster, as a couple of your posts on here have done due to your posts containing links to posters personal twitter accounts which give their real names. We've had to suspend your account until you get in touch.
Hence I am now indeed "on the naughty step" at mumsnet. Because it is Christmas little has been sorted out about this, but I would expect something to be sorted out. I am continuing to debate issues on netmums as I have done in the past, however.
There has been an additional debate about the content of an Italian court order. The English translation is as follows:
"In the opinion of this Court, the removal of the child from her parent as soon as she was born, as evidenced by the petitioner, and contrary to the opinion of the doctors, combined with the virtually simultaneous involuntary medical treatment involving a caesarean section on the parent by order of a court, poses an irreconcilable conflict with the fundamental rules that protect the rights of the child in matters of adoption. These assert that questions as to whether a child is available for adoption and the subsequent adoption of the child shall be a last resort and assumes, in any case, that the maternal parenting skills have first been tested and this is especially the case where the separation is carried out at a point where the parent is still in precarious condition and stressed by the recent birth.
The Court therefore believes that the [UK] court decision can not be recognized on the grounds that it is contrary to the principles set out , which are in regard to adoptions an integral part of public domestic and international order, taking account of the effects that recognition would have on domestic law , as [such recognition] would then justify the permanent discontinuation of the relationship between the child , the mother , the only parent recognized , and other relatives including the two sisters as well as the the maternal grandmother.
A copy of this judgment is sent to the Italian Diplomatic Representation to the UK for feedback and in respect of issues of competence .
I do think this court order is significant because of the strength of its criticisms of the decision in Chelmsford.
As the story has developed people have concentrated on the issue as to what effect alcohol had. In fact the post that caused me to be suspended was one I wrote at 9.35 on a Saturday morning when I was sober without a hangover.
The foodbanks debate and labour dishonesty.
On Wednesday there was an opposition debate. The motion can be found here
and it said:That this House notes that the number of people using foodbanks provided by the Trussell Trust alone has increased from 41,000 in 2010 to more than 500,000 since April this year, of whom one third were children; further notes that over the last three years prices have risen faster than wages; further notes the assessment of the Trussell Trust that the key factors in the rising resort to foodbanks are rising living costs and stagnant wages, as well as problems including delays to social security payments and the impact of the under-occupancy penalty; calls on the Government to publish the results of research into foodbanks commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which Ministers promised would be made public in the summer of 2013; and further calls on the Government to bring forward measures to reduce dependency on foodbanks, including a freeze on energy prices, a water affordability scheme, measures to end abuses of zero hours contracts, incentives to companies to pay a living wage and abolition of the under-occupancy penalty.
This has been misrepresented in various ways as "a vote against foodbanks" or a vote against investigating foodbanks.
When you vote for a motion you vote for everything in it. For example the freeze on energy prices which has already put energy prices up and caused a reduction in investment.
I am a strong supporter of having a detailed review of the effects of the various changes in the benefits system. However, I don't think Labour's proposals on homelessness and overcrowding, employment conditions, energy and water prices are actually good for those who are at the lower income end of society. Hence of course I would vote against this motion. I did make sure I read the papers to ensure what it actually said before I voted.
A Local Authority v C 2013 (mother not allowed to resist)
A Local Authority v C 2013
is a case where a mother has not been told anything about the case, but essentially the police are authorised to remove the child at birth. The key about this is that there is no-one arguing the mother's side of the argument. The allegations made by the state are essentially something that are allowed to stand without any challenge.
If, as is asserted in this case, someone is to be considered incapable of looking after her child then why also do they encourage her to get pregnant and hold out to her the chance of looking after the child.
However, the nub of this is I would like to hear the mother's view on these issues as to what is true.
suesspiciousminds has a good look at this and concludes:
I have some problems with this judgment and decision (not as a matter of law, the Judge followed Re D and balanced things but as a matter of principle and human rights). The remedy here for the removal at birth is that the mother has the opportunity to challenge within a few hours that decision at the EPO hearing. But how realistic is that?
Forgive me if I don’t think that this is terribly fair.
Firstly, she is going to be in a state of complete shock at the removal, which will be a total surprise to her. (I know that lawyers could look at the history and say “well, an EPO application was likely” but from mother’s perspective, if social workers have been working with her and never said that the baby would be removed, she might well think that she will keep the baby)
Secondly, she is also in the immediate aftermath of childbirth, a process which is fairly stressful, painful and somewhat discombobulating (that is a huge understatement) – not putting one in the best shape to get dressed and get on a bus to court
Thirdly, when she gets to Court, she is not entitled to instruct a solicitor to represent her, as she doesn’t have capacity
Fourthly, the Official Solicitor hasn’t been warned of the pending application so that they will be ready at court to represent her
So a vulnerable woman, with mental health problems, in the immediate aftermath of childbirth will be in Court, reeling from the shock of removal and representing herself at a contested removal hearing.
Ian Patterson and Heartlands Hospital (The Kennedy Review)
Professor Kennedy's report into the practice of Ian Patterson at Heartlands Hospital has just been released. It is a good report and demonstrates how confidentiality can at times be used to protect the interests of the powerful.
The problem is a more general culture of the Health Service to cover things up rather than resolve issues.
I have two cases at Heartlands Hospital where whistle-blowers have found themselves subject to disciplinary action. I have raised these with the hospital, but am unhappy with the response from the hospital. The whistleblowing does not relate to the care of patients, but the same principles apply.
From his report:
14.36 It is wrong, as well as pointless, to seek to control the flow of information to outside
bodies so as to contain the impact of any particular event or set of circumstances. It
prevents others from taking appropriate measures. It ensures that partial information
will emerge in an unsystematic manner, thereby damaging patients and the Trust
much more than would be the case with full, open communication. And, most
important, it is a breach of trust.
Victor Nealon: case raises questions
A constituent approached me in 2011 raising concerns about the failure to consider the new evidence It seemed that this should be considered and the court of appeal has now considered this. On behalf of my constituent I spent some time working with his lawyer to get the CCRC to consider this aspect of the case.
I am mainly concerned about two things directly relating to the appeal:
a) How long it took for this evidence to be considered as part of an appeal. This is an issue as to how the CCRC works.
b) That the system continues to punish people who maintain their innocence.
Both of these issues need to be considered.
This is in fact the third criminal appeal I have assisted with where the defendant was found either to be not guilty or to have been wrongly sentenced. There are other aspects of the process that cause me concern. One is that the barrister who handles the case at the court of first instance is the person who also writes the opinion as to the likelihood of success on appeal. I am not sure that this is really sensible.
Some more about his case http://www.insidetime.org/articleview.asp?a=187&c=a_lump_on_the_forehead
Badger Cull: Clarification Statement - I am opposed to the cull (including the Pilot one)
I have been getting emails from constituents claiming that I am known to support the Pilot Cull. This confused me because I thought I had voted against. It is, of course possible, that I had made a mistake so I checked.
It is quite clear from Public Whip here
that I did rebel on the issue on an opposition day motion. And I voted in support of the words: "That this House believes the badger cull should not go ahead."
I am trying to find out which organisation is saying otherwise, but it does not help when campaigners get their facts wrong on basic things like this.
I know that opposition day first votes are a bit confusing in that the procedural resolution is in support of the original words remaining part of the motion hence to vote against any amendment you actually vote "aye".
That, however, is the way it is.
Italian Mother: further comments on the forced caesarean
I was intending to write more on this and issues relating to VBAC. Instead I will refer to two posts written on Birthrights
and Mental Health and Capacity Law
which explain the situation well. I will also refer to the following comments by AIMS.
The decision to have a Vaginal Birth after Caesarean
(VBAC) had been a huge issue in our postbag and maternity care for a long time,
and is very much associated with women's desire for control, and also their
mental health. Originally the obstetricians policy was "once a caesarean, always
a caesarean" and it was women themselves - particularly here, but also in the US
- who wanted a chance to have a normal birth and many opted out of hospital care
in this country to have home births, with private midwives or even no care,
because they were pushed into having CS in hospital. (of course this is not all
women's choice - but we support their right to choose whatever it may be)
Finally both the ACOG in the States and the RCOG and department of Health here
has come out supporting VBACs. One of the reasons for the professional's volte
face was the number of women with previous sections who had an embedded placenta
as a result of the previous operation, and removal of this (depending on degree
of penetration of the uterine wall) can lead to massive, and sometimes fatal,
haemorrhage. Having to deal with a few of these in theatre (plus maternal
deaths) encouraged them to listen to what women wanted, which proved actually to
be safer. Here are RCOG current guidelines http://www.rcog.org.uk/womens-health/clinical-guidance/birth-after-previous-caesarean-birth-green-top-45
I think it is crucial for her lawyer to get the
medical advice that Mostyn had, so that it is possible to see if it was
balanced. We do not know if a balanced picture of risks was provided. The risk
of what is called "rupture" but in fact is much more likely to be "dehiscence"
(gradual and partial separation of the scar, which can be monitored for and a
quick CS can then be done) is in fact a very small one, and in most cases of
course, risks are explained to women and she chooses between options
Here is the NICE guideline on Caesarean which would
have been in place at the time. Please note section on Woman Centred
Italian Mother: Mostyn Judgment Published (with transcript of hearing)
The judiciary have now published the judgment in respect of the Caesarean. It is here
I remain concerned that it does not appear that she was told that this was being proposed. If it is true that she had previously elected to have a Caesarean then it sounds odd that she was not asked on this occasion, but instead driven through a legal and medical procedure in which she had no input. I remain worried about how mental capacity is removed and it does not appear that the representative of the official solicitor who was "representing her interests" actually spoke to her. One would think that if she had been asked she would have agreed given that she agreed previously. Reading between the lines of the judgment the main issue appears to have been that she did not want to give birth in England. (understandably in retrospect)
There are a number of questions about the details of the judgment. (such as what her condition actually was, whether she was being treated for the wrong disorder and the true risks of the situation) All of these issues will take some time to sort out. The wrong disorder is the most concerning as this would be the reason why she would not have been recovering (and did recover in Italy) because the treatment would have made her worse.
However, the question as to how people who are deemed "too stupid" to make decisions for themselves are treated in the process of deciding whether or not they are indeed "too stupid" (ie lack capacity) or indeed what the decision should be remains open.
Italian Mother: Sarah Matthews' petition highlights problem with Caesarean Decision
Sarah Matthews, a mother living in England, has petitioned parliament to raise concerns about the way in which courts decide that people have no right to make their own decisions.
This is how it was decided that the Italian Mother was not allowed to decide not to have a caesarean section.
The petition is in Hansard here
Sarah Matthews has been gagged by Mr Justice Mostyn to stop her talking to the media about her case.
John Hemming said about the petition:"The petition shows how the deck is stacked against people who wish to keep their rights to make decisions. I am only aware of two cases where such decisions have been resisted. One is continuing at the moment and the other is the subject of the petition."
"The Italian authorities have argued that the mother in Italy should have been allowed to make her own decision and not have a caesarean. However, it appears that she was not even allowed to know that this was proposed and express a view. The system of removing capacity is procedurally stacked against the people who face the challenge."
"Querulous Paranoia", which appears in the petition, "is basically not trusting the system. Well frankly after the things that go on I don't trust the system."
St George's Healthcare NHS Trust v S; R v Collins and others, ex parte S  3 All ER 673,  Fam Law 526, CA
The above was a case which looked at the issue of forced caesarians. This
is an article that looks at the above case. In terms of the Italian case we cannot know on the information currently available the reasoning of the judge. It seems very clear, however, that there was an Article 6 contravention because the mother concerned was not made aware of the suggestion that she might have a caesarean and hence was unable to oppose it.
Italian Mother: Letter from Italian Human Rights Court Group to John Hemming MP
are similar to Liberty.
Italian Mother: Statement by John Hemming (includes comments from mother and italian judgment)
Report of Conversation with mother:
John Hemming said "I have spoken to the mother concerned who has been
very badly treated by the authorities in England. She has said to me that she
would like to thank all the British people who have sent messages of
"Now that we know that the case is still live and to be heard by Munby P it is clear that the case is sub judice. That limits the range of parliamentary proceedings that can be used. I have, therefore, tabled a Motion in parliament relating to the failures of Essex County Council in terms of Communication with Foreign Institutions. This should appear tomorrow.
Essex County Council's failure to follow international law
Under the Vienna convention article 36 and also under Brussels II Bis revised (Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003) articles 15, 55 and 56 the Italian authorities should have been contacted about both the mother’s imprisonment and the care of the baby. However, they were not.
In 2011 Essex (in response to an FOI request) said they had no contact with High Commissions and Embassies. In 2010-11 they had 21 children who were foreign nationals who had become "looked after". This was as part of 138 who had become "looked after" in the previous 5 years. It is clear, therefore, that they were not following international law then and have not followed international law in this case."
The government are also at fault because they have refused to even try to keep track of which children in the care system are foreign nationals. This could be done easily in the SSDA903 return.
Comments on judgment:
I welcome the publication of the judgment on bailii. It is available here http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/Misc/2013/20.html
We still need answers.
We need answers from the Mental Health trust who need to explain why the mother was kept in England for 6 weeks prior to being given the C Section.
We need the publication of the judgment about the caesarean section from the court of protection.
We need an explanation of why no attempt was made to allow the father to participate in the court case. He may not be allowed to enter the UK for immigration reasons, but should have been allowed proper participation on the phone or via video link at least.
We also need an explanation from the local authority as to why when the grandmother is deemed capable of looking after two children she could not look after the third.
On the Italian proceedings
"More details are coming out about the proceedings in the Italian courts. It is clear that Essex has misrepresented the court hearings in Italy. The court of first instance ruled itself not competent to rule in the matter and referred it to the tribunal in Rome who in October 2013 declared that it “cannot recognise the ruling of the English court because it is contrary to
Italian and international norms of public order”.
Italian: "non poter riconoscere il provvedimento della Corte inglese perchè contrario alle norme italiane e internazionali di ordine pubblico".
Italian Mother: Statement by John Hemming
Response to statement from Judiciary:
"I welcome the transfer of the case from Chelmsford County Court to the High Court in front of the president of the family division. 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."
"I remain concerned that many decisions taken by the family courts are taken by the magistrates court (the family proceedings court) and are then appealed to the county court. This means that domestic proceedings can be exhausted without a case getting out of the area in which it is considered. This means that there is never any public judgment and the case in the UK has come to an end. All that people can then do is to take their case to Strasbourg."
Comment about failure of Essex to follow proper proceedings:
"The rules are straightforward when it comes to foreign nationals and care proceedings. 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."
Comment following Essex County Council's press release:
"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."
Italian Mother: Statement by John Hemming
Unsurprisingly there is a lot of media interest in this case. We do, however, need to remember that at the centre of this case is a mother and a baby (and the wider family including two siblings of the baby).
I will be driven as to what I say to the media about the case by the wishes of the mother concerned. I have been discussing that with her today. I have already had a short conversation with her on the telephone and we have agreed to speak further later today. However, I do not expect to be able to make any statement beyond this statement until after 5pm today or even later. I am on the train at the moment which makes it really difficult to have long phone calls.
In the mean time my team have been contacting the Italian Embassy to find out what their position is on this issue. In previous cases the Polish, Czech and Slovak embassies have all been very supportive of their citizens facing unjust proceedings in the family division in England and Wales. However, I do not know what the view of the Italian Embassy or the Italian authorities more generally will be.
When it comes to international public family law each country has a central authority. In the UK the central authority is the Official Solicitor. Italy also has a central authority. In the case of the Slovak grandmother last year the Slovak Central authority applied to intervene in the appeal on behalf of the Slovak Republic. It is, of course, open to the Italian Central Authority to do the same.
The case does highlight the rather selective approach that the Court of Protection has been taking to issuing public judgments. There are many judgments that can be found on the bailii website, but this case does not appear. There has to be an improvement so that proper accountability can occur of judicial processes.
In the mean time I have been referring to the case of the Cootes family. This family who had to leave the UK and go to Spain to keep their daughter are now back in the UK. I know they are willing to be interviewed about what happened with them. My office will give out the grandfather's phone number to any journalists who ask for it. One similarity between this case and that of the Italian mother is the local authority's resistance to the proposal that a baby should be cared within the wider family rather than placed for adoption.
In terms of the question as to how I will raise this in parliament. There are lots and lots and lots of ways of raising something in parliament. I will not decide precisely how to do this until after speak to the mother concerned.
Italian Mother Case: Bipolar UK issue statement in support of mother
The following is a statement by Bipolar UK:
Bipolar UK response to media reporting on forced caesarean and continued separation of mother and child
The forced caesarean and continued separation of mother and
child is, we believe, unprecedented.
sometimes the case that if someone is very ill they are unable to consent to a
medical procedure which those caring for them consider is urgently needed. But officials should make every effort to
consult with the family before decisions are taken, a procedure made more
difficult in this case because the woman was only on a short stay from
Italy. Moreover, if there were
continuing concerns about the care of the child, one would have thought Italian
social services would have been involved in determining what was best for the
Women with bipolar
may become unwell during pregnancy and are at high risk of becoming ill
following childbirth. The majority of
women recover fully, they manage the impact of the illness through strategies
involving medication, health care, therapy and self management and they are
Between 600,000 and 1.2 million individuals in the UK (1% to 2% of the population)
have bipolar. The impact and devastation
of bipolar are not about the sufferer alone.
Including parents and partners for example, bipolar affects over three
million people in the UK today.
Compared with other mental health illnesses that have a similar or lower
impact, treatment of bipolar is still hampered by misunderstanding and severe
It takes an average of 10.5 years to receive a correct
diagnosis for bipolar in the UK. The
2012 survey by Royal College of Psychiatrists, Bipolar UK and Bipolar Scotland
for the first Bipolar Awareness Day in 2012 suggested this could be as long as
Bipolar UK can provide case studies, interviews and comments from the
charity and individuals affected by bipolar.