Judges Denied Compensation To Seven-Year-Old Who Suffered Brain Injury
Specialist criminal injury lawyers at law firm Irwin Mitchell have reacted to the Court of Appeal ruling that denied compensation to a child who was born with foetal alcohol syndrome after her mother drank excessively during her pregnancy.
The seven-year-old, who was born with a serious brain injury, suffers from behavioural, memory, learning and development problems.
The case brought by a local council in the North-West of England argued that the woman had drunk excessively while pregnant, consuming significantly more alcohol than the guidelines issued by health authorities suggest.
Judges ruled that the mother had not committed a criminal offence against her daughter while she was pregnant and therefore her daughter could not receive compensation through the Government’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
Lord Justice Treacy dismissed the appeal in the Court of Appeal. In handing down the judgement he said: “A mother who is pregnant and who drinks to excess despite knowledge of the potential harmful consequence to the child of doing so is not guilty of a criminal offence under the law if her child is subsequently born damaged as a result.”
He explained that the damage caused to the unborn baby by heavy drinking was inflicted at an early stage of the pregnancy when the child did not have a separate existence under the law.
Sarah Brumpton, a personal injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office, who specialises in Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority claims, which provides settlements for people injured in crimes who can’t pursue alternative civil actions, said:
Expert OpinionThis is a complex and significant case that ultimately boiled down to the interpretation of the Offences Against the Person Act.
“The lack of distinction between mothers and their unborn babies means a foetus does not have a legal personality to constitute ‘any other person’. Therefore, in the eyes of the law, no criminal offence took place against this young girl in the womb.
“The effects of excessive alcohol on an unborn foetus can be devastating and the impact the lifestyle of a child for the rest of its life. The risks of drinking excessive amounts of alcohol while pregnant are well known and it is vital this tragic case acts as a wake-up call to ensure people are aware of the dangers of consuming excessive alcohol when pregnant.” Sarah Brumpton - Associate Solicitor
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