The Memo: Pregnant woman’s firearms sentence quashed in ‘landmark’ UK ruling

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Pregnant woman’s firearms sentence quashed in ‘landmark’ UK ruling

Emily Dunham – 5 February 2024

In a case described as ‘landmark’ by campaigners, the court of appeal has quashed the prison sentence of a 22-year-old woman who is eight months pregnant. The woman had been sentenced to five years for possession of a firearm and ammunition, and was serving half of this in prison, but on a routine pregnancy test on arrival at the prison, it was discovered that she was pregnant. The woman is almost eight months pregnant and has been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a potentially life-threatening condition affecting the blood vessels of the mother and the blood supply to the baby.

The prison sentence has been replaced by judges with a two-year suspended sentence with a rehabilitation requirement. This means that the women will not spend time in prison, but will be subject to conditions placed upon her by the sentence. Attending a rehabilitation activity will be part of these requirements set by the court. It essentially means that the woman will serve a period of probation, and will not be required to spend time in prison unless she violates the conditions of her suspended sentence, or commits another offence during that time.

Campaigners have argued before that no pregnant woman should service time in prison, and big calls for change came in September 2019 after a newborn baby, Aisha Cleary, was found dead in a prison cell at HMP Bronzefield after her mother had given birth alone. Government data shows that in 2022-23 there were 44 births by women in custody, 98% of which took place in a hospital.

Women in HMP Bronzefield, and various other prisons in the UK, have been provided with rape alarms by the company running the prison in order to provide pregnant women with a further level of reassurance. This move has been heavily criticized by feminist campaign group Level Up, who worry that this suggests that prison officers having little confidence in their ability to respond to the needs of pregnant women within their prisons. Several other countries including Italy, Spain and Mexico, do not imprison women when pregnant, and this landmark case could suggest that England is moving in the same direction. This is first case of its kind though, so it is yet to be seen whether this will lead to permanent changes.