No compensation for brain-damaged girl whose mother drank while pregnant

REUTERS/John Kolesidis

A girl whose mother who drank large quantities of alcohol during pregnancy will not be entitled to compensation, the Court of Appeal ruled today.

The seven-year-old girl, who has foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) was born with severe brain damage and now lives in care. The case against the mother was brought by a council in the North West of England, the public body now responsible for the child.

The council argued that the mother had effectively poisoned her foetus. They won at the first-tier tribunal, but lost at the upper administrative tribunal, as it was argued that a foetus was not a person in law. 

The mother reportedly drank half a bottle of vodka and eight cans of lager daily throughout her pregnancy, and allegedly ignored warnings about the effect of her drinking on her unborn child.

The court had to decide whether the daughter was entitled to compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation scheme as a victim of a crime.

According to the BBC, the three appeal judges said: "The central reason is that we have held that 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 our law if her child is subsequently born damaged as a result."

It was set to be a landmark case, as if the court had ruled against the mother, it would have confirmed the personhood of a foetus independent of its mother - a particularly important issue for pro-life campaigners.

It might also have meant that other lifestyle decisions of pregnant women could have been considered criminal if they were deemed to have a negative effect on their child.

According to the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome there are an estimated 6,000-7,000 babies born in Britian with alcohol-related brain damage each year, although there were only 252 official diagnoses of FAS in England between 2012-2013. The condition can affect the mental and physical of development of the foetus as well as causing behavioural problems.