Parents fighting to continue life-sustaining treatment for their baby faced going to court without legal representation because they were not eligible for legal aid, a High Court judgment has revealed. However, a barrister heard about their plight through the hospital’s barrister and stepped in to represent them for free.
In The NHS Trust v The Parents, published this week, Mrs Justice Judd DBE pointed out that parents whose children are the subject of a local authority application to take them into care receive full non means tested and non merits tested public funding ‘but parents who face an application for the withdrawal of treatment from their child do not, despite the enormous significance of the decision to be made’.
Mrs Justice Judd said: ‘Not only are these cases medically complex, but emotionally they are as hard as is possible to imagine for the parents. In this case, the father works and his wages mean that the family are over the limit for assistance with representation. Unsurprisingly, they could not afford to pay for a lawyer themselves.’
The judgment states that the baby, referred to as ‘S’, has remained on the neonatal intensive care unit since sustaining a severe brain injury, perinatal hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy, at birth last year.
The hospital sought five declarations, including that it was not in S’s best interests to continue to receive life-sustaining treatment including ventilation.
S’s parents opposed the application. Until the day of the hearing, they had no legal representation.
George Thomas, a barrister at Serjeants’ Inn, stepped in after hearing about the parents' plight through Michael Mylonas QC, also of Serjeants' Inn, who was representing the hospital trust.
Mrs Justice Judd said Thomas ‘represented them with the greatest of skill and care, ensuring that their case was properly put before the court and taking the burden from them of having to do it all by themselves. I am extremely grateful to him, and wish to commend him for what he has done’.
Mrs Justice Judd said the case was one ‘where the burdens and possible suffering that continuing treatment brings with it outweigh the benefits of prolonging life’ and made the declarations sought by the hospital trust.
Michael Mylonas QC (instructed by Hill Dickinson) represented the hospital trust. George Thomas (instructed by Advocate) represented the parents. Mr Osborne for the child through the Children's Guardian.