Judge orders open court hearing in 'sick baby' case

Darren and Debbie Wyatt, with their daughter,Charlotte, at St Mary’s Hospital; inset, The News,Portsmouth, front page from 27 August

A judge has ruled that the press can cover the High Court case in which the parents of a premature baby girl are challenging doctors who say they will not resuscitate her if she develops life-threatening breathing difficulties.

Mr Justice Hedley said an open court hearing would be in the interests of justice in the case of 11-month old Charlotte Wyatt, who was born three months premature at St Mary’s Hospital, Portsmouth, in October last year, at a weight of just one pound.

Charlotte has spent all her life in hospital, and has stopped breathing a number of times as a result of serious lung and heart problems. Doctors say she will not survive past infancy.

Ruling that the court battle over her future, which was due to begin on Thursday (30 September), must be heard in public, the judge said: “In this kind of case, the interests of justice are much more likely to be served by a responsible debate, based on as full information as possible, than by a debate based on partial information which may not give a fair picture of what is involved.

“If one is looking for responsible debate, the court ought to give those from whom it expects responsible debate, the fullest means of conducting that debate.”

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust is asking the judge to back its stance that, should Charlotte stop breathing again, she should not be artificially resuscitated.

The trust has informed Charlotte’s parents, chef Darren Wyatt, 32, and his wife Debbie, 23, that, in the event of a further critical episode, they will keep her alive long enough for them to reach the hospital. However, they say it would be against the interests of the child to artificially resuscitate her.

Both the parents and the trust supported the hearing being held in public, and they were supported by lawyers on behalf of the media.

However, the baby’s legal guardian, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) argued that the hearing should be in private, in order to protect hospital medical staff and expert witnesses, who will give evidence. CAFCASS claimed witnesses feared they might become targets of pro-life campaigners.

Although he ruled that the hearing must be in open court, the judge has barred identification of medical staff involved in the case and independent expert witnesses who will give evidence at the hearing.

By Jess Harrold

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