Drinking alcohol when pregnant could become a criminal offence

A council in the North West of England is seeking criminal injuries compensation after a six-year-old girl was left with growth problems caused by her mother’s excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

If the Court of Appeal rules that the woman in question committed a crime then it can be argued that it paves the way ahead for future criminalization of pregnant women.

In this case a girl who is now six-years old was born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which causes retarded growth, face abnormalities and intellectual impairment.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) was diagnosed 252 times in England in 2012 and 2013.

The Upper Tribunal of the Administrative Appeals Chamber ruled that the girl was born with FAS as “a direct result” of her mother’s drinking but it was added: ”If (the girl) was not a person while her mother was engaging in the relevant actions then… as a matter of law, her mother could not have committed a criminal offence.”

In January the local authority lawyers had failed to get compensation on the child’s behalf from the Criminal Injuries Authority (CICA). They are now trying to prove that the girl’s mother was criminally negligent under the Offences Against the Person’s Act 1861.

Women’s charities claim that mothers and their babies would not be best served by treating pregnant women with drug or alcohol abuse problems as criminals.

Current NHS guidance says women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid alcohol altogether. But if they choose to drink it recommends they should not have more than one or two units once or twice a week.

The ruling of the Court of Appeal is awaited.

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