Judge at centre of Charlie Gard case hopes lessons can be learned

A High Court judge in England who oversaw the legal dispute about treatment for terminally-ill baby Charlie Gard says he hopes that lessons can be learned from the "tragic" case.

Mr Justice Francis has suggested that parents and hospital bosses who disagree over life-or-death treatment for children should be forced to mediate in a bid to avoid litigation.

The judge, who analysed Charlie's case at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court, says almost-all family court proceedings are subject to compulsory "dispute resolution hearings".

He says it is his "firm view" that mediation should also be attempted in cases like Charlie's.

Charlie's parents on Monday abandoned a five-month legal fight over treatment for their 11-month-old son after concluding that he had deteriorated to the ''point of no return''.

Their lawyers said they had made the ''most painful of decisions'' after reviewing new scan results.

But Chris Gard and Connie Yates remain at odds with doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, where Charlie is being cared for.

Ms Yates said if Charlie had been treated at the start of the year he would have had the potential to be a ''normal, healthy little boy''.

Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London did not agree.

"Almost all family proceedings are now subject to compulsory court-led dispute resolution hearings," Mr Justice Francis said as he drew the case to a close.

"This applies in disputed money cases, private law children cases and in all cases involving the welfare of children who might be the subject of care proceedings.

"I recognise, of course, that negotiating issues such as the life or death of a child seems impossible and often will be.

"However, it is my clear view that mediation should be attempted in all cases such as this one even if all that it does is achieve a greater understanding by the parties of each other's positions."

He added: "Few users of the court system will be in a greater state of turmoil and grief than parents in the position that these parents have been in and anything which helps them to understand the process and the viewpoint of the other side, even if they profoundly disagree with it, would in my judgment be of benefit and I hope that some lessons can therefore be taken from this tragic case."

Mr Justice Francis also suggested that people in the position of Charlie's parents should get legal aid.

Lawyers had represented Charlie's parents for free because they were not entitled to legal aid.

Mr Justice Francis said MPs had voted for changes limiting the availability of legal aid.

But he suggested that people in the position of Charlie's parents should always have access to lawyers.

"It is not for judges to make political points and I do not now seek to do so," he said.

"However, it does seem to me that Parliament ... cannot have intended that parents in the position that these parents have been in should have no access to legal advice or representation."

He added: "I can think of few more profound cases than ones where a (hospital) trust is applying to the court for a declaration that a life-support machine should be switched off in respect of a child.

"Mercifully, Mr Gard and Ms Yates have secured the services of a highly qualified and experienced legal team whose lawyers have been willing to give their services pro bono.

"I am aware that there are many parents around the country in similar positions where their cases have been less public and where they have had to struggle to represent themselves.

"I cannot imagine that anyone ever intended parents to be in this position."

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