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High Court rules Ashya King to be freed from legal controls

Trust, communication and respect for individual beliefs by authorities are essential in similar cases, says legal expert

9 September 2014

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Ashya King, the five-year-old boy at the centre of a debate surrounding parental rights and European arrest warrants, has ceased to be a ward of the court and has been flown to Prague to be treated for a brain tumour.

Earlier this week, the judge, Mr Justice Baker, said that Portsmouth City Council had been correct to apply for Ashya to become a ward of the court based on the medical evidence it had concerning the five-year-old's condition and the risks he faced at that time.

However, Baker described Brett and Naghemeh King as "loving parents" and said "it was not in Ashya's best interests to have been separated" from them. The judge admitted that there are cases where parents seek unreasonable medical treatment, but that this was not so here.

Baker said: "Responsibility about a child rests with his parents. In most cases the parents are the best people to make decisions about a child. The state has no business in interfering in the parental responsibility unless the child is suffering or is likely to suffer considerable harm."

The decision was announced following confirmation that Ashya had been admitted to the Motol hospital in Prague for treatment .

While this long-running saga appears to be reaching an end - at least from a legal perspective - Kiran Bhogal, a partner and head of the health and social care team at Weightmans, told SJ that Ashya's story raises a number of legal and moral issues, as well as becoming the subject of much debate about the appropriateness of the actions of the hospital, local authority, police and family.

Bhogal commented that amid this fast-moving story, which has led toAshya finally being reunited with his parents and set to receive the proton therapy treatment in Prague as planned, "the controversial debate as to the actions of the statutory authorities and the rights of individual parents and families continues, including the right to a private and family life".

"While the hospital, consultants and police face criticism of their heavy handed and bureaucratic approach to the Kings exercising their parental rights, Ashya's parents face judgement of their religious beliefs - they are of the Jehovah's Witness faith - and allegations of neglect, kidnapping and cruelty. These they vehemently deny. What surely cannot be disputed is that each did what they considered to be Ashya's best interests," she said.

Bhogal explained that as the law stands, disagreement between healthcare professionals and parents (whose consent must be obtained for treatment to be lawfully provided) is usually resolved by the courts. "However, the law also states that doctors are under no legal or ethical obligation to agree to a request for treatment if they do not consider it to be in best interests of their patients.

"Trust, communication and respect for individual beliefs are essential, as are second opinions from independent consultants as the legal, ethical and moral principles in these situations are complex."

She concluded: "Ordinarily, arrangements can be made by agreement or by involvement of the court, for transfer to alternative centres of excellence for treatment and it is unfortunate for events to have unfolded as they have. While likely to be time consuming, a measured and considered response can only be in the best interests of all concerned."

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