Prosecutors face criticism for 'ludicrous' landmark FGM trial

First person to be prosecuted for female genital mutilation in UK acquitted in 30 minutes

LAST UPDATED AT 14:30 ON Thu 5 Feb 2015

Britain's first ever trial for female genital mutilation has resulted in fierce criticism of the Crown Prosecution Service for showing a "lack of judgment".

A jury at Southwark Crown Court took less than 30 minutes to acquit Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena, from London's Whittington Hospital, of subjecting a mother to FGM after delivering her baby in November 2012. His colleague Hasan Mohammed was also cleared of aiding and abetting.

The prosecution accused Dharmasena (pictured above) of effectively repeating the mutilation that his patient had suffered as a young girl in her native Somalia.

Dharmasena told the court that he "regarded FGM as an abhorrent practice" and had been trying to stop the woman from bleeding following an emergency delivery. He said he believed he was acting in her best medical interests and she had asked him to stitch her back up. In summing up, Mr Justice Sweeney said that Dharmasena had also saved the life of the woman's baby.

The Times says the CPS showed "incompetence" in its "eagerness" to prosecute a doctor for the practice.

"FGM is a moral abomination and an attack on women's welfare," it said. "A civilised society needs to counter it with resolution and with intelligence. On that latter requirement, the CPS has failed, and at the first hurdle."

Dr Katrina Erskine, a consultant who works with women who have suffered FGM, told The Guardian that the prosecution had taken away her faith in British justice.

"It is ludicrous to conflate anything a doctor or midwife may do at the time of delivery to a woman who has already suffered FGM with FGM itself, and it is insulting to women who have actually suffered FGM," she said.

Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, told BBC Radio 4 that there was enough evidence for the case to go to court and pointed out that a judge had agreed the evidence should be heard, despite attempts by the defence to throw out the case.

What is FGM?

Female genital mutilation is the practice of removing all or part of the external female genitalia or causing other injuries to female genital organs, such as burning, scraping, piercing or cutting. Also known as female circumcision, it can involve removing the clitoris or labia, or narrowing the vagina opening, and is often carried out on young girls between infancy and the age of 15. It is not performed for medical reasons and is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

What are the consequences?

Immediate complications include severe pain, shock, heavy bleeding and infections, while longer term problems include cysts, infertility and complications in childbirth. Anaesthetics are not generally used and the practice is usually carried out by someone with no medical training using knives, scissors, pieces of glass or razor blades. One victim, speaking to the Evening Standard, said the pain was "indescribable" and worse than giving birth to any of her five children. Girls may have to be forcibly restrained, and victims are often left with psychological damage.

Why is FGM carried out?

There is a mix of cultural, religious and social factors involved. In some communities it is a social convention and considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly. Some believe it will reduce a woman's libido and therefore help her resist "illicit" sexual acts. Although no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.

Where does it happen?

More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated. But the UK is not immune. According to the NHS, there are 66,000 victims living in the UK and more than 20,000 girls under the age of 15 at risk of FGM in the UK each year. However, the true extent is unknown due to the hidden nature of the crime. Some girls are taken to their countries of origin so that FGM can be carried out during the summer holidays, allowing them time to "heal" before they return to school, but there are also worries that FGM is being performed in the UK. The Guardian reports that some families are clubbing together to pay for practitioners to travel to Britain to mutilate girls in "cutting parties".

Why hasn't FGM been stopped?

Great global efforts have been made to counteract FGM since 1997, according to the World Health Organisation. Research, work within communities and changes in public policy and legislation are believed to have helped decrease the prevalence of FGM across the world. But the practice has certainly not been wiped out. Despite being illegal in the UK since 1985, no-one has ever been convicted for carrying out FGM.

Failure to tackle FGM is a 'national scandal', say MPs

3 July 2014

A report by MPs has labeled the failure to stop the practice of female genital mutilation a "national scandal". 

It says previous governments, the Crown Prosecution Service, police and the health and education sectors should all share the responsibility for this failure.

The cross-party Commons home affairs select committee heard from victims of FGM, health and social workers, police and lawyers before compiling the report.

The report criticises the police and the Crown prosecution service for being "far too passive in their approach by waiting for survivors to come forward and report [FGM]".  

MPs also said that healthcare professionals were failing to report cases to the authorities and that the education sector needed to "overcome the awkwardness" of dealing with issues around FGM.

Measures to combat the practice were suggested in the report and include the use of protection orders for at-risk girls, better services for survivors and anonymity for victims. The report also suggested that the failure to report acts of FGM should be made a criminal offence in the UK.

Campaigners say FGM is one of the most prevalent forms of abuse in the country, with over 170,000 victims living in the UK, according to the BBC. It is estimated that a further 65,000 girls under the age of 13 are at risk of the practice.

FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, but the first prosecution only took place this year.

The report has been described as a significant milestone for the campaign to stop the practice. 

"The proposals are far-reaching and will need to be worked through, but the recognition that all agencies have a responsibility for FGM prevention and reporting is significant," Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions, told The Guardian.

"But while prosecutions after the event send a very important message, education and training to prevent FGM in the first place is better," he added.

Disqus - noscript

Step one. Execution for those involved, be it performing the mutilation or sending girls to other countries.
The purpose of punishment MUST be to deter the crimes. I'm sick of the "proportionality" nonsense. We can determine proportionality only after the crime has been committed. Sweet FA use to anyone then.

Absolutely. There can never be any justification -cultural, religious or otherwise - for perpetrating such barbaric acts of cruelty against your own children. It is staggering that these attacks are undertaken by people claiming a moral high ground, who feel they have some right or duty to savagely mutilate those who it is their duty to care for and protect. Sickening.

if the involved parents are put in prison that will deter others.
Education is very important so keep publishing such reports

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