In a crushing blow to the cohort of children injured by their mothers’ substance abuse during pregnancy, a seven-year-old girl who was born gravely disabled due to her mother’s pre-natal consumption of huge quantities of alcohol has had her compensation hopes dashed by the Court of Appeal.
With about 80 similar cases waiting in the wings, the girl’s lawyers argued that she should have been granted a payout by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) for the learning, developmental, memory and behavioural problems from which she suffered as a result of being born with foetal alcohol syndrome.
Her mother had drunk ‘an enormous amount’ during her pregnancy, including a half-bottle of vodka and eight cans of strong lager every day. The girl’s legal team argued that her mother was well aware of the risk she was taking and had ‘recklessly’ exposed her unborn child to a ‘noxious’ or ‘destructive’ thing.
It was submitted that what the mother did amounted to the crime of inflicting grievous bodily harm. However, dismissing the girl’s appeal against an earlier decision to like effect, the Court noted that Parliament had not expressly included foetuses within the category of ‘persons’ against whom the offence could be committed. Under the current law, it could not be argued that the mother was guilty of a crime.