In the papers today the news is about royal babies but recently there has been a lot of discussion on whether male infant circumcision should be banned unless the procedure is carried out on medical grounds.

Why the debate? It flows from the media discussions and press coverage on the banned female genital mutilation and the news that the Icelandic government is proposing legislation to outlaw male circumcision for anything other than non-medical reasons. Now anti-circumcision advocates are asking the British Medical Association to add support to their call for a change in UK law to stop male circumcision unless it is carried out on medical grounds.

Male infant circumcision is an important passage for those of the Jewish or Islamic faiths but according to a recent You-Gov poll 62 per cent of people in Britain support a new law banning infant circumcision.

Under current UK law and BMA guidelines both parents must give informed consent for what is termed non-therapeutic or ritual circumcision .If parents can’t agree on whether or not their child should be circumcised a doctor should not carry out the procedure without a family law Court order. In some situations children are old enough to express their views and, if so, their wishes must be taken into account. When parents are separated or divorced it is sometimes impossible to reach a consensus view on what is best for their child.

The Court application

So, what happens if parents can’t reach agreement on whether their child is circumcised or not? The Court procedure is exactly the same for a situation where parents can’t agree on whether their child should have any other type of operation or if parents can’t agree on the school their child should attend or the religion their child should practise.

Either parent can apply to the family Court for what is known as a ‘’specific issue order’’ for a judge to decide on whether the child should be circumcised, undergo any other medical procedure or determine the choice of school or religion.

How does a judge decide what is best for a child?

The judge has to consider what is in the child’s best interests. In a case called Re S a judge decided that it was the mother’s need to portray herself as a religious person that was behind her desire to have her 8 year old son circumcised , against the father’s wishes, and the Court application was refused. The rationale behind the refusal was that it is the child’s best interests and needs that are paramount, not the parent’s needs. Each Court decision will turn on the individual family circumstances and, in many situations, a judge is likely to rule in favour of circumcision after taking into account a range of welfare factors.

If there is a change in the law regarding male circumcision or there is a ground swell of public opinion away from male circumcision for non-medical reasons judges may be less ready to determine that the procedure is in the best interests of an infant child.

For advice on any aspect of children law please call me on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at louise@evolvefamilylaw.co.uk