Critics have tried to discredit a judge who jailed a woman for killing her near-born child, saying the judge has links to a Christian charity.
Justice Jeremy Cooke is one of five judges who are also members of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship.
He recently jailed Sarah Catt for eight years after she used poison to end the life of her baby boy who was just days away from being born.
Late-term abortions are illegal in Britain, unless the child is severely disabled, or the mother’s health is in grave peril.
Catt was trying to cover up an adulterous affair and hadn’t gone for an abortion before 24 weeks of gestation – the legal limit for most abortions in Britain.
Sentencing her, Mr Justice Cooke said that “all right thinking people” would regard her actions as somewhere between manslaughter and murder.
But some commentators have tried to suggest that the jail sentence is surprisingly severe.
And they have attacked the judge for telling the woman that the Abortion Act, even liberally interpreted, does not offer her a defence.
A blogger on the British Medical Journal website questioned the judge’s remark that “all right thinking people” would regard the offence as more serious than manslaughter as the child was so close to being born.
Iain Brassington, a Bioethics lecturer, said the judge should have been unconcerned that the baby was nearly due, since life demands protection from the law at birth, not before.
He said the point at which life begins is unimportant, what matters is “the point at which that life becomes morally weighty.”
The critics also point out that Mr Justice Cooke is a member of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF).
The National Secular Society has questioned the aims of the group. Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood said: “As long as judges apply the law equally to everyone, it does not matter what their religious persuasion is, if any.”
He added: “But literally ‘applying God’s justice on the ground’ – one of LCF’s principles – implies putting religious principles above democratically agreed, human rights-compliant law.”
Catt was convicted under the Offences Against the Person Act 1867 for use of poison with intent to procure a miscarriage.
She was sentenced to eight years in prison, half of which she will spend on licence.