The British-Sri Lankan doctor charged in the UK’s first prosecution for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) appeared at Southwark Crown Court in London on Tuesday.
Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena, 31, a registrar at Whittington Hospital in North London, is accused of carrying out the procedure on a woman who gave birth at the hospital in November 2012.
He will be tried alongside Hasan Mohamed, 40, who is not a medic but who is charged with aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring Dr Dharmasena to commit an offence of female genital mutilation.
Both men pleaded not guilty.
FGM has been a criminal offence in the UK since 1985 but new legislation drawn up in 2003 introduced stricter penalties for the practice, including raising the maximum jail sentence to 14 years.
Dr Dharmasena, of Ilford, Essex, is charged with a specific section of the 2003 law which forbids anyone from removing or mutilating part of a woman’s genitals.
However, that element of the prosecution’s case has caused concern among some members of the medical community.
The woman operated on by Dr Dharmasena had already been mutilated. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has alleged that Dr Dharmasena had carried out FGM himself by “repairing” the patient’s vagina after she had given birth.
In March, one of London’s leading gynaecologists expressed her concerns about the case.
Dr Katrina Erskine, head of obstetrics at London’s Homerton Hospital, told the Independent that the CPS was putting “politics before the welfare of women” as the service was under pressure to bring about an historic first prosecution.
Dr Erskine said doctors were angered by the decision to prosecute Dr Dharmasena.
She warned that the case would take attention away from the real issue of FGM on young girls and deter medical experts from carrying out vaginal repairs on women who had already become victims of the practice.
FGM is carried out in varying degrees, normally before puberty.
The most extreme involves cutting the clitoris and inner lips of the vagina and sewing together the outer lips to leave a small hole through which urine and menstrual blood can pass.
FGM is widely practised in parts of Africa and the Middle East and experts say it is becoming increasingly prevalent in Britain.
The Metropolitan Police has reported receiving 140 “references” to FGM in the four years from 2009-13, and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children launched a helpline last year after claiming 70 women and girls a month were seeking treatment for FGM.