Caesarean section
A baby being delivered by caesarean section (Reuters)

A pregnant woman has had her baby forcibly removed by caesarean section by social workers, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

Essex social services obtained a High Court order against the woman. The order meant that she could be forcibly sedated and the child removed from her womb.

The council thought it was acting in the best interests of the woman, an Italian who was in Britain on a two-week training course last year, because she had suffered a mental breakdown.

Brendan Fleming, the woman's British lawyer, told The Sunday Telegraph: "I have never heard of anything like this in all my 40 years in the job.

"I can understand if someone is very ill that they may not be able to consent to a medical procedure, but a forced caesarean is unprecedented."

The baby girl, now 15 months old, is still in the care of social services, which are refusing to return her to the mother, who claims she has made a full recovery.

The case has developed into an international legal row, with lawyers for the woman questioning why her family was not consulted beforehand and also why no efforts were made to involve Italian social services, which would be better placed to look after the child.

It will also be raised in Parliament this week by John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP. He chairs the Public Family Law Reform Coordinating Campaign, which wants reform in court proceedings involving family matters.

He said: "I have seen a number of cases of abuses of people's rights in the family courts, but this has to be one of the more extreme.

"It involves the Court of Protection authorising a caesarean section without the person concerned being made aware of what was proposed. I worry about the way these decisions about a person's mental capacity are being taken without any apparent concern as to the effect on the individual being affected."

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, visited Britain in July last year to attend a training course with RyanAir at Stansted Airport in Essex.

The Sunday Telegraph said she suffered a panic attack, which her family believe was due to her failure to take medicine for a bipolar condition.

She called the police, who became concerned for her well-being and took her to a hospital, which she later realised was a psychiatric facility.

She informed her lawyers that when she said she wanted to return to her hotel, she was restrained and sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Meanwhile, Essex social services obtained a High Court order in August 2012 for the birth "to be enforced by way of caesarean section", according to legal documents seen by the newspaper.

The woman, who says she was kept in the dark about the proceedings, says that after five weeks in the ward she was forcibly sedated. When she awoke she was told that the child had been delivered by C-section and taken into care.

In February, the mother, who had gone back to Italy, returned to Britain to request the return of her daughter at a hearing at Chelmsford Crown Court.

Her lawyers say that she had since resumed taking her medication, and that the judge formed a favourable opinion of her. But he ruled that the child should be placed for adoption in case of a relapse.

A spokesman for Essex County Council concerned would not comment on ongoing cases involving vulnerable people and children.

The case has also been raised before a judge in the High Court in Rome, which has questioned why British care proceedings had been applied to the child of an Italian citizen. The Italian judge accepted, though, that the British courts had jurisdiction over the woman, who was deemed to have had no "capacity" to instruct lawyers.