The parents of a young child on life-sustaining treatment recently ran into legal difficulties when seeking representation regarding their child.
The parents were fighting to continue their baby’s treatment when they faced to prospect of going to court without legal representation when seeking to prolong the treatment.
The child had remained in the neonatal intensive care unit since they sustained a severe brain injury during birth last year. The hospital sought five separate declarations, including that it was no longer in the child’s best interests to continue receiving ventilation as well as other life-sustaining treatments.
The parents opposed the applications, however were not able to get access to legal representation.
The case highlighted a significant discrepancy in the law around who is entitled to public legal funding and who is not. However, the parents were saved the ordeal of going to court alone after a barrister stepped in to help them.
The parents were told by the judge overseeing the case that unfortunately, while parents whose children are the subject of a local authority application to take the child into care are given full, unfettered access to public funding for legal representation, they would not be.
Parents who are fighting against a withdrawal of treatment from their child do not have such privileges or access to funding for representation, so they faced going to court alone.
Mrs Justice Judd expressed her deep concerns for the family, stating that not only are cases like the one posed medically complex, they are also “as hard as is possible to imagine for the parents.”
In this particular case, the father of the child works and his wages meant that they did not qualify for funding assistance when seeking representation. However, despite being over the threshold to disqualify them from funding, they were not able to afford representation on his salary alone.
The Barrister, a friend of someone at the hospital, generously stepped in to offer their services pro bono to the family. According to Mrs Justice Judd, they ‘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.”
Despite the representation, the family were unsuccessful in their opposition to the application and it was ruled that the case was one, “where the burdens and possible suffering that continuing treatment brings with it outweigh the benefits of prolonging life”, and found in favour of the declarations sought by the hospital trust.