Archie Battersbee: Last-minute hearing begins in case of 12-year-old on life support

Archie Battersbee with his mother Hollie Dance.
Credit: Family photo
Archie Battersbee's case has been through a number of appeals Credit: PA Media

A last-minute hearing is being held over whether life-support treatment should be withdrawn for 12-year-old Archie Battersbee, just hours before it is due to end.

The Court of Appeal granted a virtual hearing for 11am on Monday after the government asked it to “urgently consider” a request from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to continue his treatment so the committee could examine his case.

The youngster was due to have his life-support at the Royal London Hospital in east London ended at 2pm on Monday, following a lengthy legal battle in which a High Court judge ruled this to be in his best interests.

The decision was later backed by the Court of Appeal and Archie’s family applied to the UN as a final attempt to prevent their son’s treatment from being stopped, with the committee contacting the government on Friday.

The court is not due to make its decision before 3pm on Monday.

At the hearing, lawyers representing Archie's parents told judges that, unless the withdrawal of his life-sustaining treatment was postponed, the court would be “complicit” in a “flagrant breach of international law”.

Edward Devereux QC, acting for Ms Dance and Mr Battersbee, asked the court to grant a stay to continue treatment until after the committee has had time to consider Archie’s case, but said he did not know how long that would take.

As an alternative, he asked the court to grant a stay within the next week to give time to seek more information from the committee as to the likely timescale for its decision.

He told the court: “What this court is considering now is whether it is going to be complicit in a flagrant breach of international law.”

Mr Devereux also argued that it would be “wholly inappropriate” for the court to reach a decision without the government being required to provide its views on the committee’s request.

Hollie Dance speaks to the media outside the Royal Courts of Justice Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

However, Fiona Paterson, representing Barts Health NHS Trust, said the government had chosen “not to make submissions but instead effectively to seek the court’s guidance”.

She told the court there was a “commendable logic” in that decision given that the court had all of the information necessary, having considered the case previously.

She said the UN committee’s request was not binding and added that the matter could be determined by the court and that no further participation of the government was necessary.

The trust will not take any steps to end Archie’s treatment until the Court of Appeal has given its decision on the latest development.

Alistair Chesser, chief medical officer of Barts Health NHS Trust, speaking after a court ruling in June. Credit: PA

Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, had written to the family over the weekend to inform them they intended to end treatment on Monday afternoon.

Archie’s mother, Hollie Dance, said the family felt “relieved” that the government had taken the UN’s intervention seriously.

“This was not a ‘request’ but an interim measures injunction from the UN,” she said. “The anxiety of being told that Archie’s life-support will be removed [at 2pm on Monday] has been horrific.

“We are already broken and the not knowing what was going to happen next is excruciating.”

Archie’s parents are being supported by campaign organisation the Christian Legal Centre.

Alistair Chesser, chief medical officer for Barts Health NHS Trust, had previously said the plan to withdraw medical treatment would proceed unless the court directs otherwise on Monday.

He said: “Our deepest sympathies are with Archie’s family at this difficult time. We understand a court hearing will take place on Monday morning and we await the outcome.

“The plan to withdraw treatment will proceed unless the court directs otherwise.”

The trust previously said in a letter to Archie's parents, who are separated but both live in Southend, Essex, that the withdrawal process would aim to “preserve Archie’s dignity”.

The trust said in the letter: “We understand that any discussions around the withdrawal of Archie’s treatment are very difficult and painful.

“However, we want to ensure that you and your family are involved as much as you wish to be.”

“You or any of the family may wish to lie on Archie’s bed with him or have him in your arms, if that should be practically possible,” it added.

Archie Battersbee’s father, Paul Battersbee Credit: James Manning/PA

Ms Dance, speaking before Monday's court hearing, said this would amount to “extraordinary cruelty” and a “flagrant breach of Archie’s rights as a disabled person”.

She said: “Archie is entitled to have the decisions about his life and death, taken by the NHS and UK courts, to be scrutinised by an international human rights body.

“Hastening his death to prevent that would be completely unacceptable.”

  • What happened to Archie Battersbee?

Archie suffered “catastrophic” brain damage in an accident at home three months ago.

His mother found Archie unconscious with a ligature over his head on 7 April, and he has not regained consciousness. She thinks he may have been taking part in an online challenge.

Doctors treating Archie at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London, think he is “brain-stem dead” and say continued life support treatment is not in his best interests.

Archie’s parents disagree and say his heart is beating, and are being supported by the campaign group the Christian Legal Centre.

Lawyers representing the Royal London Hospital’s governing trust, Barts Health NHS Trust, had asked for decisions about what medical moves are in Archie’s best interests.

A High Court judge, Mrs Justice Arbuthnot, considered the case and concluded, after an earlier hearing, that Archie was dead.

But Court of Appeal judges upheld a challenge by Archie’s parents against decisions taken by Mrs Justice Arbuthnot and said the evidence should be reviewed.

The case was referred back the High Court, where Mr Justice Hayden ruled that life support could be lawfully withdrawn, saying evidence showed Archie suffered a “significant injury” to “multiple areas” of his brain and had not “regained awareness at any time”.

After a second appeal from the family, Court of Appeal judges backed Mr Justice Hayden's assessment.

That led Archie's family to seek other avenues to overturn the decision, leading them raise the issue with the United Nations.

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