A local authority has admitted violating a mother and baby's human rights when social workers took away the little girl within hours of her traumatic hospital birth.
The mother was on morphine after undergoing life-saving surgery when social workers obtained her consent to the removal of her baby girl under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.
In a guideline ruling, High Court judge, Mr Justice Hedley, said he ‘seriously doubted’ whether the mother – who was then in fear that she would have an allergic reaction to the morphine - had legal capacity to give her informed consent at the time.
The judge said that the local authority had conceded that social workers should not have sought the mother’s agreement when they did and that the baby's removal ‘was not a proportionate response’ to any risk to the child's welfare.
He added that the council - which has initiated an internal investigation into what happened - accepted that the mother and baby's rights to respect for family life, enshrined in Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention, had been breached.
The council had agreed to pay damages to the mother, as ‘just satisfaction’ for the breach of her rights, and she has asked that the undisclosed sum be spent on giving her the therapy that all agree she needs.
The judge said that the mother had endured a harrowing childhood and adolescence which left her not only vulnerable but ‘devoid of parenting instinct or intuition’. Her previous children had also been taken into care and placed for adoption.
He ruled that there was an ‘overwhelming’ case that the welfare of the girl demanded that she also be placed with an adoptive family and ordered accordingly.
Laying down guidelines for the future in a judgment approved by the President of the Family Division, the judge said that local authorities ‘may want to approach with great care’ the obtaining of a mother’s consent to the removal of a child in the aftermath of giving birth, especially where there is no immediate danger to the child.