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Last Updated: Monday, 27 September, 2004, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
Parents begin 'right-to-life' bid
Baby - anonymous
The case will centre around the baby's right to treatment
The parents of a seriously-ill premature baby have been permitted to have their High Court fight for her right to treatment heard in public.

Darren and Debbie Wyatt's daughter Charlotte weighed just one pound when she was born three months early.

Doctors have said they will not resuscitate Charlotte if she develops life-threatening breathing problems.

In a hearing on Monday, Mr Justice Hedley, said a public hearing was in the interests of an informed debate.

He added: "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."

The judge had heard arguments from lawyers on both sides of the case and from media groups anxious to report the hearing, which begins on Thursday and will raise issues of major public interest.

Baby's interests 'paramount'

Charlotte was born three months prematurely at St Mary's Hospital, Portsmouth, in October 2003, and measured only five inches long.

She has never left hospital, and has already stopped breathing several times due to serious heart and lung problems.

Doctors say she will not survive beyond infancy because her lungs are so severely damaged.

Her parents, chef Darren Wyatt, 32, and his wife Debbie, 23, have been told that, in the event of another critical episode, it is prepared to keep her alive long enough for them to attend at her bedside, but insists it would be "against the child's interests" artificially to resuscitate her.

The Wyatts' battle for a public court hearing - the first of its kind in such a case - was backed by the hospital trust, which is anxious to reassure the public about the treatment it offers and the decisions it makes.

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), which is acting as Charlotte's legal guardian, had argued that the interests of the child were paramount and that, while the court's judgment should be made public, the hearing itself should be in private so that witnesses were free from outside pressure.

But Mr Justice Hedley said the baby would never have the capacity to appreciate what the argument was about and her welfare might be better served by continuing cooperation between her parents and the hospital.

However he banned the media from identifying the individual medical staff caring for Charlotte and the independent expert witnesses who are to be called to give evidence.

The experts have expressed fears they would be targeted by pro-life lobbyists unless they were allowed to remain anonymous.

Caroline Harry Thomas, counsel for three of the experts and the unnamed NHS trust which employs them, said that in an entirely separate case two of them had been subjected to a two-year "campaign of vilification and harassment" against themselves and their families.

One of them had been on the point of withdrawing his expert report on Charlotte, but happily the media had agreed to an injunction protecting the experts' anonymity.

The parents won the right to have the hearing in public.

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