Another one of the cases where due to failures in completing the paperwork with IVF treatment, one of the parents did not acquire the legal parental responsibility that they should have acquired, leading to painful and possibly expensive Court proceedings. The failure in this particular case, leading to the parents to have to make an application in the High Court and get Deidre Fottrell QC to represent them, is that the Clinic failed to make sure that the form when completed had shown a tick in the right box to indicate consent.
So, in this case, whilst a tick in a box may be quite continental, double-checking is a mum’s best friend. I’m here all week, try the chicken.
The President identified these problems first in
A and Others (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008) 2015
The individual cases have kept rumbling on, and the High Court has been rather scathing from time to time of the mess that the Hospital management / legal department have been handling things.
For example here :-
This particular decision is Re J 2016
Following IVF treatment provided by a clinic at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, which is and was regulated by the HFEA, Y gave birth to their child. X seeks a declaration pursuant to section 55A of the Family Law Act 1986 that he is, in accordance with section 36 of the 2008 Act, the legal parent of the child. Y is wholeheartedly supportive of X’s application.
In this case, the failure was not a failure to use the right forms, or indeed to ensure that the parents had signed them, but here, that the parents had failed to put what the judgment calls a “v” (but I think must be a tick) in the right box.
- Adopting the terminology I have used in previous cases, the problem in the present case is very shortly stated. Before the treatment began, X signed a Form PP. Y signed a Form WP. There is no problem with the Form PP. The problem arises because when Y signed the Form WP, which otherwise was properly completed, she omitted to place a v in the box in section 3 opposite the text “I consent to my partner (named in section two) being the legal parent of any child born from my treatment.” The central issue is this: Did Y give her consent to X becoming the father of her child? In my judgment the answer is clear: she did.
- I can take the matter quite shortly. This case is not unlike Case I where, as I said (para 21):
- “a v was inserted in the wrong place and, as it were, against the wrong piece of text. It was, as [counsel] submits, a simple undetected clerical error. In the circumstances, this obvious mistake can, in my judgment, be ‘corrected’ as a matter of construction, and without the need for rectification.”
- That there has been a mistake in this case in the completion of the Form WP is obvious, for the very purpose of completing the form is to give the consent indicated by the placing of a v in the relevant box. And it is plain what was meant. After all, Form WP is headed “Your consent to your partner being the legal parent.” What did Y think she was doing when she completed and signed the Form WP, if not to give her “consent to [her] partner being the legal parent”? The answer is obvious: by signing the Form WP she intended to and believed she was giving that consent. The only defect in the completed document is, as was the defect in Case I, a simple undetected clerical error. In the present case, as in Case I, this obvious mistake can, in my judgment, be ‘corrected’ as a matter of construction, and without the need for rectification.
- In these circumstances, the application of the principles set out in the earlier authorities is simple and the answer is clear: Y gave the relevant consent and X is entitled to the declaration he seeks.
- A final matter
- On the same day as she signed the defective Form WP to which I have referred, Y, at the invitation of the clinic, also signed another Form WP to ‘correct’ an error which, she was told, had been made in the Form WP she had signed some years before in connection with earlier successful IVF treatment. The earlier Form WP had been wrongly dated. What ensued was quite remarkable, as the clinic committed itself to – blundered into – what, were these matters not so sensitive and grave, one might be tempted to call a comedy of errors. First, the suggested ‘error’ in the earlier Form WP was quite immaterial for, as I noted in In re A (para 78), “the precise date is not material; what is vital is that the form was signed … before the treatment.” Secondly, it is quite clear that a mistake in a Form WP (or for that matter a Form PP) cannot be corrected retrospectively after the treatment by the signing of a substitute form. Thirdly, precisely the same error (the omission of the v in the box in section 3) appears in each of the two Forms WP signed by Y on this occasion. Fourthly, one might have thought that the clinic, having, as it thought, detected an error in the earlier Form WP, would have been more than careful to ensure that each of the new Forms WP was correctly completed. Not a bit of it!
- The lack of understanding of the critically important legal framework with which it had to comply, and its seemingly lackadaisical failure to ensure proper completion of the new Forms WP in the face of what it believed to be its previous error, cast a sadly revealing light on the managerial and administrative failings of a clinic which one really might have thought would have been able to do better.
- Not for the first time I am left with the feeling that the medical staff in these clinics, who seem to have been given the responsible for ensuring that all the necessary medical and legal consent forms were properly completed, wholly failed to appreciate the critical need to ensure that the legal consent forms were properly, indeed meticulously, completed. I repeat what I said in In re A (para 111):
- “the approach to checking that the Form WP and the Form PP have been fully and properly completed is surely just as important, and demands just as much care, attention and rigour, as would be demanded in the case of a legal document such as a contract for the sale of land, a conveyance or a will – indeed, in the context of parenthood, even more important.”
These administrative failures, which have been so characteristic a feature of every one of the cases I have had to consider, unhappily seem indicative of systemic failings both of management and of regulation across the sector. I can only hope that what all this litigation has revealed will by now have led to very significant improvements in understanding and practice.
Sadly, I suspect that it is only going to be when the Hospitals are hit with compensation claims or costs orders that things will improve.