Categorized | Case Law, Civil Law

“Blood on our hands”

“Blood on our hands”

The nation will have “blood on its hands” if an NHS hospital bed cannot be found within days for a teenage girl, known only as X, who is at acute risk of taking her own life, according to the UK’s most senior family judge.

Sir Justice James Munby, who sits as president of the High Court’s family division, in his judgment said he felt “ashamed and embarrassed” that no hospital place had been found that could take proper care of the unnamed 17-year-old when she was due to be released from youth custody in 11 days’ time.

The judicial intervention draws attention to the state of mental health provision in the UK. Munby said it demonstrated the “disgraceful and utterly shaming lack of proper provision in this country of the clinical, residential and other support services”. He ordered his judgment in the private case be made public and sent to NHS England and senior Government ministers to expose the “outrage” that is the “lack of proper provision for X – and, one fears, too many like her”.

The judge added: “We are, even in these times of austerity, one of the richest countries in the world. Our children and young people are our future. X is part of our future. It is a disgrace to any country with pretensions to civilisation, compassion and, dare one say it, basic human decency, that a judge in 2017 should be faced with the problems thrown up by this case and should have to express himself in such terms.”

His judgment explains that the girl, named only as X, has made a large number of “determined attempts” on her life. She is due to be released from a secure unit, referred to as ZX for legal reasons, and doctors believe she needs to be placed in further care for her own protection. But, so far, none has been found.

Staff have warned that her “goal is to kill herself” and has intensified in recent weeks, believing that if she is sent back to her home town “it will not take more than 24 to 48 hours before they receive a phone call” saying she is dead. She has attempted to swallow items including stones, screws and clothing to take her own life. She has also attempted to use her hair and clothing to hang herself, and has self-harmed by cutting, banging her head, biting and punching her own body.

Justice Munby said staff were doing their best in a dire situation, but also said the girl’s treatment could violate articles of the European Convention on Human Rights on “inhuman or degrading treatment” and the right to private and family life. “Of course, this is all driven by the imperative need to preserve X’s life, but how is this treatment compatible with her humanity, her dignity, let alone with her welfare?” he asked.

Sir James said: “For my own part, acutely conscious of my powerlessness – of my inability to do more for X – I feel shame and embarrassment; shame, as a human being, as a citizen and as an agent of the State, embarrassment as President of the Family Division, and, as such, Head of Family Justice, that I can do no more for X.”

The judgment In the matter of X (A Child) (No 3) was handed down in Liverpool on 3 August 2017 when Sir James wrote that: “If, when in 11 days’ time she is released from ZX, we, the system, society, the State, are unable to provide X with the supportive and safe placement she so desperately needs, and if, in consequence, she is enabled to make another attempt on her life, then I can only say, with bleak emphasis: we will have blood on our hands.”

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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