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Girl not entitled to alcohol injuries compensation after her mother drank excessively while pregnant, court hears

By John Aston

A young child is not entitled to criminal injuries compensation after her mother drank excessively while pregnant, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Three appeal judges unanimously ruled: "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."

The ruling was a blow to a local authority which had fought the compensation battle on behalf of CP, now aged seven, who suffers with learning, development, memory and behaviour problems.

If the appeal had succeeded it could have paved the way for pregnant women's behaviour to be criminalised, according to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) and Birthrights.

Lawyers for the child say that view was "misplaced speculation".

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the Bpas, and Rebecca Schiller, co-chair of Birthrights, welcomed the court's unanimous decision, saying: "This is an extremely important ruling for women everywhere.

"The UK's highest courts have recognised that women must be able to make their own decisions about their pregnancies."

The appeal judges heard that a large number of similar claims for compensation by children allegedly harmed by alcohol in the womb were awaiting the outcome of CP's appeal, with solicitors already instructed in around 80 cases.

Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lord Justice Treacy and Lady Justice King, considered the case recently at a one-day hearing.

The judges were told that the mother was drinking "an enormous amount" while pregnant with CP, including a half-bottle of vodka and eight cans of strong lager a day, and the child was born with an alcohol-related disease.

John Foy QC, appearing for CP, said that was the equivalent of 40-57 units of alcohol a day. Guidelines issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) were that 7.5 units might damage a foetus.

Mr Foy was representing a council in the North West of England which now has responsibility for CP and was seeking an award on her behalf under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

He said the mother "was aware of the dangers to her baby of her excessive consumption during pregnancy".

He added: "She was reckless as to whether there would be harm to the foetus. She foresaw that harm might be caused but went on to take the risk."

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