Case law Developments in PIL

Italian Authorities Claim Jurisdiction to Protect Indi Gregory After English High Court Ruled Life Support Should Be Withdrawn

Indi Gregory is an eight-month-old child. She suffers from profound metabolic, neurological and cardiological disorders. At the time of writing this post she was a patient at an intensive care unit at a hospital in Nottingham.

A few months ago, the doctors who have been treating Indi in England came to the conclusion that her illness is incurable and that, given the pain caused by the life supporting treatment she is receiving, it is in Indi’s best interest that such treatment be withdrawn.

The parents disagreed and have since reiterated their wish to have the treatment continued. They made contact with a paediatric hospital in Italy, which made itself available to explore further options and continue treating the child.

The matter was dealt with by the High Court of England and Wales. This dramatic case, which reminds of similar cases involving children with incurable diseases, widely covered by the press (including the cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans), raises a number of highly sensitive issues, legally and ethically. It also raises some private international law issues, as a result of the fact that Indi was recently granted Italian citizenship and that the Italian authorities, namely the Italian Consul in Manchester, claimed jurisdiction over the matter and issued orders aimed at transferring Indi to Rome.

This post is exclusively concerned with the latter issues.

Proceedings in England and in the European Court of Human Rights

The hospital Trust seised the High Court of England and Wales, in September 2023, seeking authorisation to remove the life sustaining care Indi was receiving, on the ground that, according to the Trust, there was no prospect of recovery, Indi’s life expectancy was very limited, the treatments she was receiving were causing her a high level of pain and suffering, and there was no discernible quality of life or interaction by Indi with the world around her.

The parents opposed the application, alleging, inter alia, that Indi had prospects of gaining a degree of autonomy, that she was showing small signs of improvement, and that the precise causes of her presentation are unclear and required further time and investigation.

On 13 October 2023, the Family division of the High Court ruled in favour of the Trust. Peel J explained:

With a heavy heart, I have come to the conclusion that the burdens of invasive treatment outweigh the benefits. In short, the significant pain experienced by this lovely little girl is not justified when set against an incurable set of conditions, a very short life span, no prospect of recovery and, at best, minimal engagement with the world around her. In my judgment, having weighed up all the competing considerations, her best interests are served by permitting the Trust to withdraw invasive treatment in accordance with the care plan presented.

Shortly afterwards, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales was seised of an appeal against the decision, by the parents, based on three grounds. By a ruling of 23 October 2023, the Court concluded that there was no prospect of an appeal on either of those grounds succeeding, and accordingly refused permission to appeal.

The parents of Indi Gregory seised the European Court of Human Rights, seeking an urgent order that would prohibit the withdrawal of life supporting treatment. The Strasbourg Court, however, did not uphold their request.

Peel J of the High Court was then again seised by Indi’s parents. They sought permission for the care of their child to be transferred to other medical professionals, at a hospital in Rome. On 2 November 2023, the High Court dismissed the application on the ground that there was no material change of circumstances, or other compelling reason, to justify reconsideration of the original order.

Specifically, concerning the proposal by the Rome hospital for cardiac intervention, Peel J considered that such intervention was inappropriate “because of the severity of the underlying conditions, IG’s instability and the lack of prospect of any meaningful quality of life, and the ongoing burden and pain of invasive treatment”. He added that “invasive life sustaining treatment is no longer appropriate for IG” and that the “substantial burdens of such treatment significantly outweigh any perceived (but in my judgment negligible) benefit, in a context where her life expectancy is very short, and her conditions irreversible”. He explained that,

there is nothing to suggest that IG’s prognosis would be beneficially altered by the Italian hospital’s treatment. On the contrary, it may well prolong pain and suffering if and to the extent that it incorporates invasive procedures which in my judgment are not in IG’s best interests, and should not be sanctioned.

Steps Taken by the Italian Government and Authorities

On 6 November 2023, the Italian Government decided to grant Italian citizenship to Indi Gregory. It relied for this on Article 9(2) of the Italian Statute on Citizenship (Law No 91 of 1992), according to which citizenship may be granted, through a Presidential Decree, where to do so is of “exceptional interest for the Italian State”.

According to the press release accompanying the decision, such an interest consisted, in the circumstances, in providing IG with additional therapeutic opportunities (“ulteriori sviluppi terapeutici”), for the purposes of safeguarding the pre-eminent humanitarian values underlying the case (“preminenti valori umanitari”). The decision, the press release explains, was adopted following a request by the parents of the child, in connection with their wish to have Indi transferred to Rome to receive further treatment.

The author of this post was unable to retrieve any official document explaining in which way, i.e., based on which legal grounds and reasoning, the fact of making Indi Grgeory an Italian citizen would alter the picture resulting from the orders of Peel J, and increase the chances of Indi being transferred to Rome.

Be that as it may, on 8 November 2023, according to press reports, the Italian Consul in Manchester asserted that Italian authorities had jurisdiction over the case, precisely on the ground that Indi had become an Italian citizen, and ordereed that IG be transferred to Italy. The decision was taken by the Consul in his capacity of “guardianship judge”, that is, in the exercise of the judicial functions that Italian law confers on the heads of consular posts as regards, specifically, the protection of minors of Italian nationality outside the territory of Italy. The Consul also appointed a special representative of IG to take care of the implementation of the order. Press reports indicate that the appointed representative made contact with the hospital managers seeking their “cooperation”.

Further Developments

The English High Court made a new ruling on 8 November 2023. The parents wished to take the child back home, in Derbyshire, and have the extubation and the resulting compassionate care performed there.

Peel J dismissed the request. He observed that Indi “should continue to have clinical treatment of the highest quality, carried out in a safe and sustainable setting”, which would “not be available at home”, noting that

for the plan to work at home, there needs to be a close, constructive and engaged level of communication between the parents and the Trust/relevant clinicians, but, unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case.

Interestingly, for the purposes of this post, Peel J took note that Indi had very recently been granted Italian citizenship, while adding that the Indi’s father (the mother did not intervene at the hearing)

acknowledged, correctly and properly, that my decisions and orders are unaffected by this development.

Rumours circulated in the press concerning a possible agreement between the Italian and the UK Governments regarding the transfer of Indi to Italy, although no indications were given as to the legal grounds on which the decisions of the High Court could be superseded.

Withdrawal of life support is expected to be carried out today, 9 November 2023, at 15 CET.

Some Remarks on the Private International Law Aspects of the Case

The text of the order issued by the Italian Consul in Manchester has not been made publicly available. The author of this post is not aware of the exact provisions of the order. The grounds on which the Consul asserted that the case comes with the jurisdiction of Italian authorities are also not known. It is also not known whether the Consul addressed the issue of the recognition of the English orders in the Italian legal system, and, in the affirmative, what conclusions were reached in that regard. In addition, it is not known whether any exchanges occurred between the Consul and the High Court either prior to the Consul’s order or at a later stage.

The following remarks are, accordingly, of a general nature, and do not purport to represent an analysis, let alone an assessment, of the measures taken by the Italian authorities.

The Hague Child Protection Convention

Italy and the UK are parties to the Hague Child Protection Convention of 19 October 1996.

As stated in Article 1(1)(a), the Convention aims, inter alia, to “determine the State whose authorities have jurisdiction to take measures directed to the protection of the person or property of the child”. Cases like that of Indi Gregory appear to come with the material scope of the Convention.

Pursuant to Article 5(1) of the Hague Child Protection Convention, the authorities of the Contracting State of the habitual residence of the child have jurisdiction to take measures directed to the protection of the child’s person or property. In relation to States, like the UK, in which two or more systems of law regarding the protection of children apply in different territorial units, reference to habitual residence must be construed, as clarified in Article 47(1), as referring to habitual residence in a territorial unit. Thus, as concerns children whose habitual residence is in England, English courts have jurisdiction.

As a rule, the authorities of the State of which the child is a national do not have jurisdiction under the Convention.

Rather, the Convention contemplates the possibility that a case be transferred by the authorities having jurisdiction based on Article 5 to the authorities of a different Contracting State.

Specifically, Article 8 stipulates that the authority of the State of habitual residence of the child, if they consider that the authority of another Contracting State “would be better placed in the particular case to assess the best interests of the child” (including the authorities of the State of nationality of the child), may request that other authority to assume jurisdiction to take such measures of protection as they consider to be necessary, or suspend consideration of the case and invite the parties to introduce such a request before the authority of that other State.

Article 9 goes on to state that the authorities to which the case may be transferred (including, again, the authorities of the State of nationality), if they consider that they are better placed in a particular case to assess the child’s best interests, they may request the competent authority of the Contracting State of the habitual residence of the child that they be authorised to exercise jurisdiction to take the measures of protection which they consider
to be necessary. The authorities concerned may then proceed to an exchange of views.

In the case of Indi Gregory, the English High Court has, so far, not considered that the Italian authorities would be better placed to deal with the case, including after the Court was informed that an Italian hospital was available to treat the child and that Indi had been made an Italian citizen.

On 9 November 2023 news reports had that the Italian Consul in Manchester had approached the High Court in connection with a request based on Article 9 of the Convention. Very few details were available on this  at the time of publishing this post.

The urgency of the matter does not appear to change things. The Hague Convention includes a special provision that applies in “all cases of urgency”, namely Article 11, but this provision confers jurisdiction on the authorities of the Contracting State “in whose territory the child or property belonging to the child is present”.

It is worth adding that measures relating to the protection of a child emanating from the authorities (including a Consul, as the case may be) of a Contracting State are entitled to recognition in all other Contracting States “by operation of law”, as stated in Article 23(1). However, recognition may be refused, according to Article 23(2)(a) “if the measure was taken by an authority whose jurisdiction was not based on one of the grounds provided for in Chapter II”, of the Convention, i.e., Article 5 and following.

Does the Involvement of a Consular Authority Change the Picture?

One may wonder whether the picture resulting from the above provisions of the Hague Child Protection Convention could be affected in some way where a consular post, rather than a judicial authority, claims to take measures directed at the protection of a child.

The Hague Convention applies, as such, to all the authorities of a Contracting States with competence over matters within the scope of the Convention itself. The nature of the authorities involved in a given case are, accordingly, immaterial. Rather, where a consular post is involved, it is appropriate to assess whether the rules governing consular relations may play a role, and possibly affect the operation of the Hague Convention.

Both the UK and Italy are parties to the Vienna Convention on consular relations, of 24 April 1963. In addition, the two countries have concluded between themselves, in 1954, a consular convention.

Article 5 of the Vienna Convention describes consular functions as including, among others, “safeguarding … the interests of minors … who are nationals of the sending State, particularly where any guardianship or trusteeship is required with respect to such person”. As specified in Article 5(h), the latter function is to be exercised by consular posts “within the limits imposed by the laws and regulations of the receiving State”.

For their part, the authorities of the receiving State (the English authorities, in the case of Indi), are required, according to Article 37(b) of the Vienna Convention “to inform the competent consular post without delay of any case where the appointment of a guardian or trustee appears to be in the interests of a minor … who is a national of the sending State”. It is clarified, however, that the giving of this information is “without prejudice to the operation of the laws and regulations of the receiving State concerning such appointments”.

The bilateral consular convention does not appear to extend the functions of consular authorities regarding the protection of children, nor impose on the authorities of the receiving State duties that go beyond what is provided in the Vienna Convention, in particular as regards the jurisdiction of courts and the recognition of foreign decisions.

As a result, it is difficult to see how the findings above, made in respect of the Hague Child Protection Convention, could be modified in light of the involvement of a consular authority.

For further developments regarding the case of Indi Gregory, see here.

1 comment on “Italian Authorities Claim Jurisdiction to Protect Indi Gregory After English High Court Ruled Life Support Should Be Withdrawn

  1. Fascinating case. The only way forward for Italian authorities seems to me to seek an agreement either from British public authorities, or from the British hospital. The issue then would indeed arise whether the British competent authorities would be bound by the English order. As far as the hospital is concerned, it should be able to come back to the court and explain that they would allow a transfer.

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