The High Court has ruled that the founder of a pregnancy counselling service had unlawful custody of a baby during the summer. The baby had been born to a student who had sought help from the agency. The infant is now being cared for by foster parents with the Eastern Health Board.

In a 32-page ruling delivered over the weekend, Ms Justice Laffoy said that the agency founder had "singularly failed" to show that the 21-year-old mother's decision to give her baby to the man and his wife for adoption was a free decision. She said that they had acted in a totally inappropriate manner in relation to the young mother.

The pregnancy advice agency at the centre of the case is believed to have associations with the Irish anti-abortion movement. The 21-year-old student contacted the agency when she was seven months pregnant after she saw an advertisement. After what was described as an upsetting stay in hospital, the baby girl – known as ‘Baby A’ – was given to the man when she was four days old.

Ms Justice Laffoy said that there was a strong suggestion that the mother was the victim of a deliberate design to entrap the mother and her baby. The court ruling also referred to a second baby – known as ‘Baby B’ – the baby of a 17-year-old secondary student who was also in the custody of the agency founder between April and June of this year. The child has since been reunited with her grandmother.

The Adoption Board - the statutory body responsible for adoptions - has said that the two babies at the centre of the ruling could not have been adopted by the couple who had detained them. The Board said this was because the law governing adoption had not been adhered to. A spokesman for the Board said that since the implementation of the 1998 Adoption Act private adoptions are illegal. Following the ruling, there have been calls for the regulation of pregnancy advice agencies. The Gardaí are considering whether a criminal offence took place.