Another FGM case in Britain that found no harm
05/09/2015 § Leave a comment
Another FGM case, which did not involve the criminal law but family law, and that took place in November 2014 in Leeds, two months before the first criminal trial in London, involved an attempt to take two small children into care: a girl G aged ±3 and a boy B aged ±4, whose parents were of African origin. The children had temporarily been placed with foster parents as the mother was having mental health problems. The judge’s write-up of the case, on which this blog is based, said:
“The suspicion that G had been subjected to FGM first arose in November 2012 in country S after blood had been found in her nappy when she was at nursery. She was examined by two doctors who found (I quote the translation) ‘no sign [she] had any damage to female organs’. A further medical report states ‘outer and inner labia normal and the clitoris is normal. No sign of any circumcision’. The question was raised again in November 2013 when the foster carer reported G’s ‘irregular genitalia’.”27
Three people, invited to examine the girl and give evidence because all were considered to be experts and presented themselves as such, gave testimony in court. According to the judge’s report, Expert 1 was an expert in child sexual abuse and described herself as an expert in the assessment of female genitalia ‒ but not for FGM. She had examined approximately five girls with FGM over the previous three years, but only one was a baby. Expert 2 was a midwife with extensive experience of pregnant women with FGM; she described herself as an FGM, reproductive and public health specialist. She had knowledge of and expertise in many aspects of FGM and its medical and other consequences, which she has published and spoken on extensively, both in Britain and abroad. When she gave oral evidence, however, it became clear she had almost no experience of FGM in babies. Expert 3 had established a specialist clinic in 1999 for women with health consequences of FGM, and had a great deal of experience of them; moreover, her clinic was the only specialist paediatric FGM clinic in the country.
Experts 1 and 2 both examined G and both said in written and oral evidence that they thought they had seen evidence of FGM. However, their descriptions of the mutilation differed from each other’s. Expert 1 later changed her evidence and admitted to having made a mistake. Expert 2’s evidence was described by the judge as: “confused, contradictory and wholly unreliable”. Expert 3 did not examine G in person but saw the reports of the other two and watched the DVD of their examination of G. She said she saw no evidence of FGM. Both parents also denied that G had been subjected to FGM. The judge dismissed the FGM charge.
The local authority who brought the case argued that if G had been subjected to FGM it was reason enough to initiate adoption proceedings. Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, who heard the case, said there were three issues to consider: Had FGM occurred? Did it amount to significant harm, and if so, what were the implications. Having heard the evidence, he concluded that the “local authority is unable on the evidence to establish that G either has been or is at risk of being subjected to any form of FGM”. In a lengthy and thoughtful consideration of the implications, he also cautioned that even had FGM been found, “local authorities and judges are probably well advised not to jump too readily to the conclusion that proven FGM should lead to adoption”.
This case illustrates that even experts cannot always tell or agree whether a child has had FGM. The implication, as I see it, is that allowing uncalculated numbers of children to be examined for FGM by people who are likely to have even less expertise than the witnesses in this trial, is a recipe for disaster.
 See Berer M. Acquittals in the FGM case in London, justidce was done and was seen to be done, but what now? Berer Blog, 10 February 2015. https://bererblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/acquittals-in-the-fgm-case-in-london-justice-was-done-and-was-seen-to-be-done-but-what-now/.
 Sir JamesMunby, President of the Family Division. In the matter of B and G (Children) (No 2). Neutral Citation Number:  EWFC 3. Case No: LJ13C00295. 14 January 2015. https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/BandG_2_.pdf.