Baby’s parents appeal after losing High Court life-support treatment fight

A judge ruled last week that doctors could lawfully stop providing treatment to the baby after a trial in the Family Division of the High Court in London

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The parents of a seriously-ill four-month-old boy have appealed after losing a High Court life-support treatment fight, and are arguing that they did not have a fair trial.

A judge ruled last week that doctors could lawfully stop providing treatment to the baby after a trial in the Family Division of the High Court in London.

Mr Justice Hayden heard that, earlier this summer, the baby had tried to breathe after doctors diagnosed him as being brain stem dead.

The baby’s parents, who are of Bangladeshi origin and represented themselves at the hearing, want a fresh trial.

A general view of Guys and St Thomas' Hospital in London.
A general view of Guys and St Thomas' Hospital in London.

They say the judge should have adjourned the High Court hearing to give them time to find lawyers.

Appeal judges began to consider the case at a preliminary Court of Appeal hearing in London on Friday.

They are due to fully analyse arguments at a further appeal hearing on Wednesday.

A barrister representing the couple at the appeal hearing on Friday told Lord Justice Underhill and Lord Justice Baker that his clients’ human right to a fair trial has been breached.

Bruno Quintavalle argued that, by “failing to adjourn the proceedings” to allow the couple to be legally represented, Mr Justice Hayden breached “fair trial rights” enshrined in Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“Best interests proceedings of this nature and conducted at breakneck speed … tax even experienced law firms,” he said in a written case outline.

“It is entirely unrealistic to expect distraught parents to be able to conduct litigation in such cases, still less to be able to represent themselves properly.”

He added: “(They) are not native-English speakers and required the assistance of an interpreter during the proceedings.”

Mr Quintavalle told appeal judges that Mr Justice Hayden had said an application for an adjournment had been made of the morning of the trial.

He had said he “was unable to allow it” and explained that proceedings had been going on for more than a month and specialists were in court to give evidence.

Bosses at the London hospital trust responsible for the baby’s care became involved in a treatment dispute with his parents earlier this summer and asked a High Court judge to consider the case.

Lawyers representing Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust said tests showed that the boy, who has suffered a serious brain injury and is on a ventilator, is brain stem dead and wanted a judge to make a declaration of death.

But they subsequently returned to court and told Mr Justice Hayden that a nurse had noticed the baby trying to breathe, after doctors had carried out brain stem tests and concluded that he had died.

Specialists rescinded “the clinical ascertainment of death” and trust bosses asked Mr Justice Hayden to decide instead what moves are in the boy’s best interests.

He ruled that ventilation should be withdrawn and only palliative care provided.

The judge said evidence shows that the baby is dying and has a “complete absence of ability to benefit from treatment”.

Barrister David Lawson, who led the trust’s legal team, told Mr Justice Hayden that the boy had suffered a “devastating” brain injury and asked him to rule that he should now follow a “palliative care pathway”.

The baby’s parents, who are Muslims, viewed his breathing attempts as a miracle and want him to remain on a ventilator.

A senior doctor involved in the boy’s care had told the judge she did not know whether there have been other, similar cases.

The doctor said she has never seen such a situation before and told Mr Justice Hayden that a review is ongoing.

She apologised to the boy’s parents.

Mr Justice Hayden said the case raises “important questions”.

Appeal judges ruled that neither the boy nor medics involved in his care could be named in media reports of the case.