In what circumstances is an unborn child entitled to compensation for injuries caused by a mother? That is the question facing the Court of Appeal today.
A mother drank heavily during pregnancy despite warnings from social workers and antenatal medical staff that it risked harming her unborn baby. The baby was born with foetal alcohol syndrome and has since suffered from developmental problems. The mother is no longer in contact with the child who is being cared for by a local authority. That authority brought a successful claim before the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority on the grounds that the mother’s behaviour constituted the crime of poisoning under section 23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. However the decision was overturned in the Upper Administrative Tribunal.
The media reported that the Upper Tribunal’s decision was made on the grounds that an unborn child is not a person in law and therefore no criminal offence could have been committed. If the report is correct, this is a curious conclusion as a criminal offence can be committed against a foetus under the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929. It is easy to forget that the Abortion Act 1967 makes an exception to that law on child destruction where the provisions of the Act are complied with.
One wonders whether the perhaps unspoken dilemma for the Upper Tribunal was that its decisions might beg the following question: if a criminal offence can be committed against a foetus and if the child is entitled to be compensated for the injuries it has suffered, how is it that the law appears to make it so easy to take the life of an unborn baby under the Abortion Act 1967? Did it fear that it might upset the current uneasy status quo?