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A tale of two Telegraphs

 

Two recent stories in the Telegraph about Court cases.

 

The first, here

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/11412971/Why-dont-the-family-courts-obey-the-law.htmlr

 

is from a writer that you all know Christopher Booker.

 

Mr Booker’s story here is that a mother in care proceedings lost her child at an interim stage because of ‘one small bruise’ and was not allowed into the Court room during most of the hearings, and that this was because of their lawyers.

 

On a court order, the two boys were taken into care, and over the following months, through several court hearings from which the parents were excluded by their lawyers

 

Last April, the couple were summoned to a final hearing to decide their sons’ future. The mother was represented by lawyers she had been given by Women’s Aid, which works closely with the local authority. As an intelligent woman, studying for a university degree, she and her partner arrived early at the court, for what was scheduled to be a five-day hearing. They were armed with files of evidence and a list of witnesses they wished to call, all of which they believed would demolish the local authority’s case.

But the mother describes how they were astonished to be told by their lawyers that again they would not be permitted to enter the court. Half an hour later, the barristers emerged to say that the judge had decided that their two boys should be placed for adoption. There was no judgment for them to see, and no possibility of any appeal against his decision. This Wednesday the couple will have a final “goodbye session” with their sons, never to see them again.

 

 

Mr Booker names His Honour Judge Jones as the judge behind this story. [He doesn’t quite give him that courtesy, instead assuming that he is on first name terms with a Judge who he’s about to rip apart in a national newspaper]

 

Now, there are two distinct possibilities here.

 

  1. Everything that Mr Booker reports here is true.
  2. What Mr Booker reports is not what happened and something has gotten lost in the telling of the story.

 

As ever with Mr Booker, he doesn’t make it explicit that there’s a single source for his story, but I can’t see a second source anywhere. Now, that doesn’t mean that it won’t turn out to be true, but I’d feel happier when dealing with extraordinary claims to see confirmation of the story from more than one source.

 

We simply don’t know until we see the judgment from His Honour Judge Jones. In fact, if the latter of those two possibilities is true, we may not even recognise the judgment as relating to this case at all.

 

It would be utterly wrong, and utterly appealable, for a Judge to make an Interim Care Order removing a child from parents without letting them into the court-room, and utterly wrong, and utterly appealable for a Judge to make a Care Order and Placement Order without allowing the parents into the Court room and allowing them to have their opportunity to fight the case if they wished to. If this happened, it would be tremendously wrong.

 

If what Mr Booker says is what actually happened, then he is utterly right to rage against it and I would join him in his rage. If I was a betting man, my money would be on the second possibility, and that he has not been given a full and complete account of what happened.

 

HOWEVER, and I will be absolutely fair to him, if he had told the story of the case before HH J Dodds where the parties attended the first hearing and the Judge made three Care Orders in a five minute hearing, I would not have believed that either, and Mr Booker would have been right and I would have been wrong.

 

I would have said so had that happened. He is also right to draw attention to that Court of Appeal decision about HH J Dodds, and it does highlight that sometimes things happen in Courts that fly in the face of everything you believe and that really unfair things can happen to people. If it happens to you, it is small consolation that it is rare and shouldn’t happen, it must be utterly devastating. Some of the people who come to Mr Booker, or any of the other campaigners, are coming with completely truthful accounts of dreadful injustice, and it is important that they have somewhere to turn, someone who will listen to them.

 

As George Orwell said – We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.

 

And although I’m not asserting that Mr Booker or any of the campaigning groups are either rough men, or would be willing to visit violence on anyone, you hopefully get the general thrust of the point. In being willing to listen to the stories of injustice that people tell them, they provide a mechanism for injustice to come to light, and that is an important thing.

 

I hope that Mr Booker is wrong here, but I accept that he could be right, and if he is, it is important that people hear of it.

 

Sometimes Judges do behave in appalling ways. Sometimes social workers do too. So sometimes, the sort of stuff that Mr Booker rages about does happen, and when it does, he is right to be bloody cross. Even if I think that sometimes Mr Booker is the boy who cries wolf, there are wolves in the world, and that boy was eventually right.

 

If and when I see a case from HH Judge Jones that relates to Care Orders, involving Denbighshire Social Services, two boys and a bruise, I will update you. Perhaps Mr Booker is right. If he is, it is a scandal and I will commend him for bringing it to light. If he is mistaken, then no doubt there will be a correction and an apology, not least to a Judge who has been accused of acting in a way that would make anyone reading it think much less of him.

 

 

[Here is an idea, which I’m sure won’t be taken up – if a parent comes to a journalist with a story that sounds extraordinary about the way they were treated in Court, get the parent to sign an authority allowing the journalist to approach the solicitor representing them, and for the solicitor to read the proposed article and tell the journalist whether that’s an accurate depiction of what really happened, or if the facts have got a bit mixed up]

 

 

Second case

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11412861/Judge-refuses-mothers-plea-to-treat-terminally-ill-son-saying-he-should-be-allowed-to-die.html

 

In which Mrs Justice Hogg, sitting in the Court of Protection made a declaration that the hospital could lawfully stop treating an 18 year old with a brain tumour, even though that withdrawal of treatment would end his life and his parents were arguing that the treatment should continue.

 

Now, this is a story which feels much more solid. It is easier to believe when reading it that what it says happens is what happened. (Booker’s story may well turn out to be true, but it has question marks over it that this one does not)

 

The hearing was in public, which makes it a lot easier for a reporter to put out a strong story with sources – in this case, there are quotations from the judgment and comments from both sides, and the report gives the sense of what a difficult decision this must be either way. It also has the sense of being the sort of thing that happens in the Court of Protection – these are the sort of decisions that have to be taken, the evidence heard and issues raised are consistent with the way one might imagine such a hearing to take place.

 

Again, until we get the judgment, it is difficult to analyse whether the Judge was right or wrong in making that decision – we simply don’t have enough of the key pieces of information or to see how the Judge balanced the competing arguments. So when it comes up, I will share it with you, and we can have the debate – hopefully it won’t be long.

 

It is hard not to have an emotional response however, and my sympathies on an emotional level are with the parents. I don’t think there tend to be many such decisions that go with the heart rather than the head (or with the parents rather than the medics) and I tend to think that the wishes of the family ought to carry rather more weight than they often seem to at the moment, as an overall criticism of these decisions rather than saying that the Judge in this particular case got it wrong.

 

It will be interesting to see how the Judge dealt with the right to life issue, article 2 being something that binds the Court as a public body, and that being an unqualified right. There are previous decisions which do sanction this withdrawal of treatment, largely connected to the right to die with dignity

 

It does make me somewhat uncomfortable that where a family want that for a person it is generally resisted, but when the medics want it and the family oppose it, it generally happens. Is the judiciary too deferential to the views of medical professionals? That’s a much wider debate.

Lasting power of attorney – revocation.

Re SB 2015 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/7.html is another case heard by Senior Judge Lush, involving a person who signed a Lasting Power of Attorney, giving her sons the ability to manage her financial affairs on her behalf when she lost capacity.

It is a GOOD thing to have a Lasting Power of Attorney, particularly if you know that you are suffering from an illness which is going to rob you of the capacity to make decisions for yourself. Much better that those decisions be made by someone you love and trust, rather than by strangers or a Court.

It therefore annoys me massively when the people given that trust misuse it like this man.

b) BB had used £19,038.69 of his mother’s money to pay his farm suppliers.

(c) BB had invested a further £24,000 of his mother’s funds in a biomass boiler at his farm.

(d) although SB owns two investment properties, the rental income from them had not found its way into her accounts.

 

BB’s response?

On 7 October 2014 BB filed an acknowledgment of service in which he stated that he objected to the application. He said:

“I truly believe that we still have the best interest of our Mum at heart both her welfare & finances.”

The Lasting Power of Attorney gave the son the right to manage his mother’s affair FOR HER, and for her benefit. It was not a right to spend what he was assuming was his inheritance whilst she was still alive. If she had wanted to give him this money whilst she had capacity, that would be fine, but she had not made that decision. This is dipping into (well, more plunging than dipping) his mother’s money for his own benefit.

For those who criticise the existence of the Court of Protection (and there are flaws with it, it isn’t perfect), what is your alternative for this? Let the son rob his mother blind?

The cases about sterilisation and C-sections and deprivation of liberty are the ones that get the headlines, but these financial exploitation cases are the real bread and butter of Court of Protection work. It is desperately sad that when money comes into the picture, some people are prepared to abuse the trust placed in them and use their parents money as if it were their own.

 

forced sterilisation

I normally canter through a judgment, picking out the salient bits, but I think this one really needs to be read in full to appreciate it. It would not be fair for me to look at individual passages.

This is a follow-up to this piece

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/07/08/barbecue-tongs-and-police-being-given-power-to-force-entry-to-a-home/

 

In which Cobb J, sitting in the Court of Protection, gave a ruling that a caesarean section was in a woman’s best interests and even that the police could force entry. It was a very unusual case.

This follow up is the same Judge, in the same Court, considering whether the woman, who lacked capacity to make decisions for herself, should be sterilised without her consent. And again whether there could be powers to forcibly enter her home, remove her and take her to hospital.  The Court do decide that these things are in her best interests.

There’s no getting away from this, the fact that a Court even have these powers makes anyone feel uncomfortable.  Critics of the system have the right to say that this feels wholly and utterly wrong, no matter how carefully it is explored.  It does end up smacking of eugenics, and the nasty side of eugenics at that. Even thinking for a minute about how terrifying it must be for this woman when the police knock down her door and she is taken to hospital for surgery she doesn’t want and doesn’t understand makes your flesh crawl.

My personal take is that I think Cobb J gives a very careful and thoughtful judgment and tries to balance the competing factors.  Parliament have given the Court of Protection this authority to make such decisions, and if they have to be made, doing it in the way Cobb J has done is the best way to do it. I think he is also right to set out that this is a truly exceptional case, with truly exceptional facts – all efforts to engage and develop the woman’s understanding about the health risks to her of further pregnancies were unsuccessful, and the health risks are life-threatening.  But we have sadly seen that unique and exceptional cases do sometimes end up being used in ones that are slightly less so, and on and on until authorities bear little resemblance to the original case.

 

The Mental Health Trust and DD 2015  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/4.html

 

Even if you end up disagreeing with Cobb J’s decision (and I think you’re perfectly entitled to – this is one of those really moral and ethical arguments) please do him the courtesy of reading the judgment first. It must be a thankless job having to make decisions like this.

Defying the Court of Protection – is there such a thing as committal in Court of Protection?

 

 

MSAM v MMAM 2015 is a Court of Protection case tackling something for the first time.

 

In this case

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/3.html

 

Mrs MMAM is 76. Her health deteriorated and she was living in parlous conditions at home. Following assessments, it was felt that she lacked capacity to make decisions for herself and was unable to remain in her own home.

 

The Court of Protection considered the case and made the following declarations on 20th February 2014 :-

 

“It is hereby declared pursuant to S.48 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that: it is lawful and in the First Respondents best interest to continue to reside and receive care at X residential home and any deprivation of her liberty occasioned by residing there is approved by the Court pursuant to S.4 A16 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.”

 

 

On 1st April 2014, MMAM’s grandson attended the X residential home and removed her from that home, the manager of the home believing that he had no legal authority to prevent this.

 

 

It is important to note that she was then removed to Saudi Arabia, and also important to note that MMAM’s son (MSAM) had been a party to the Court of Protection proceedings and had not been challenging the plan at that hearing.

 

 

On the 1st April 2014 Mrs MMAM left the jurisdiction. I have been told she is currently residing in Saudi Arabia. On the morning 1st April the Second Respondent (Grandson) took Mrs MMAM from the X road residential home. He did so with the compliance of the manager who believed that he had no legal basis to prevent such a course. He was apparently told that Mrs MMAM was going with her grandson to the Saudi Arabian Embassy. She was taken there and her travel documents were provided which appeared to have enabled her to be booked on the very next available flight from London to Jeddah which left that evening. The grandson purports to outline the events of that day in his statement dated the 13th May. I say without hesitation that I found his account to be self serving and disingenuous. The description of what is said to be Mrs MMAM’s behaviour on that day bears absolutely no relationship to anything I have read about her in any other document. At paragraph 8 the grandson states

 

“We took a taxi to the Embassy arriving just before 10am, my grandmother, without entering security, had found the way to the meeting ahead of me. Once I had introduced her, I left her to discuss her affairs as I had understood from my father I should not participate in discussing the case with officials and her in any detail. A few hours went by, I was summoned and asked to accompany my grandmother to a place where food was given to her and then we were taken to a rest facility. Little later someone from the embassy came to take her and I was told to return home and that they would contact me as required.”

If that was indeed in any way accurate and Mrs MMAM had been left on her own at the Embassy, in my view, she would have been, on the basis of everything I have read, confused and probably rather frightened. The statement is entirely unconvincing. In the paragraphs that follow any aspiration to credibility is lost, if not abandoned.

 

“That night the manager from X road called me regarding my grandmother, I said she must still be with the embassy staff if she wasn’t back at X road. Someone from the Local Authority also contacted me, he asked me whether I felt she was safe or not? I told them I believe she was and would contact them if I heard anything. I then received a call to let me know that my grandmother was safe, ‘not to worry’ and I relayed the message to staff…. the next day I heard news that my grandmother was in Saudi Arabia.”

Later he states:

 

“The manner and speed of her repatriation has taken me by surprise. I do not want to speculate on the matter but I’m aware the situation has pleased my grandmother and family. Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, the time constrained medical condition made the embassy action inevitable; though I do not believe any of the people aware of my grandmother’s appointment with the embassy expected it and I certainly did not.

‘I would like to thank the court for its measured consideration and on behalf of both myself and my grandmother I want to express our gratitude to Judge Batton, the staff of X Road and the doctors. I am eternally grateful to found, in all of them, definitely the living personification of the oath undertaken by each of them.”

The picture presented is a complete fabrication. This old, sick, largely incapacitous lady further burdened by an ‘abnormal belief system’ would simply not have been able to function effectively or autonomously in the way the grandson asserts. It is clear from the above passages that the grandson was acting entirely on his father’s instructions. That is the dynamic of their relationship which I have observed for myself in the courtroom at previous hearings. The reference to “the time constrained medical condition” sadly relates to the fact that Mrs MMAM is suffering from metastasised bowel cancer. The statement requires recasting in reality. Mr MASM and his son have plainly colluded to defeat the declaration made by this court. Mr MASM has done so notwithstanding that he acquiesced to the declaration made and drafted in the terms that it was. He was the applicant in this litigation. In my judgement he has acted with cynical disregard to the objectives of this process and, in the light of the declarations drawn, it must follow that his actions are entirely inconsistent with the best interests of this vulnerable and incapacitous woman, who is of course his own mother. The reasons for this planned deception are not immediately clear, but I draw from this history and from the actions of these two men that their motivation is likely family’s financial self-interest. It seems to me that if Mr MASM had genuinely believed that his mother’s interest did not lie in her remaining in the residential unit for the reasons Dr Arnold said then he had every opportunity to put those conclusions to the assay by cross examination. He chose not to do so despite being represented by counsel.

 

 

The legal question then arose :-

 

  1. Was this action a breach of the Court of Protection’s declaration and authorisation of Deprivation of Liberty?
  2. And if so, what are the sanctions for such a breach

 

 

Within the law relating to children, these sort of actions have been going on for a long time, and it is settled law that a breach of a Court order can lead to an application for committal for contempt of court, and to imprisonment if the breach can be proved to the criminal standard of proof. But this is new to Court of Protection cases.

 

Though this case raises important issues of law and practice it must be emphasised that conduct of the kind seen here is rare, indeed in my experience it is unprecedented. Many of the litigants who come before the Court of Protection are at a time of acute distress in their lives, as a cursory glance at the case law of this still fledgling court will show. The issues could not be more challenging, not infrequently they quite literally involve decisions relating to life and death. Inevitably, some litigants do not achieve their objectives neither wholly nor in part but they respect the process. More than once I have observed that the importance to a family of being heard in decisions of this magnitude matters almost as much as the outcome itself. Sometimes the medical and ethical issues raised are such that NHS Trusts seek the authorisation of the court to endorse or reject a particular course of action. The court ultimately gives its conclusion by declaration both in relation to lawfulness and best interests. The terms of these declarations often cannot and indeed should not seek to be too prescriptive.

 

Keehan J reviewed the powers of the Court of Protection to enforce its orders (and note the criticisms of the LA for its ‘supine’ response)

 

The Court of Protection’s powers of enforcement are extensive. The Court has in connection with its jurisdiction the same powers, rights and privileges and authority as the High Court (COPR 2007, R89) which means that it may find or commit to prison for contempt, grant injunctions where appropriate, summons witnesses when needed and order the production of evidence. (COPR 2007, part 21 makes further provision RR183-194). The relevant practice directions (PD21A) and “practice guidance notes” deal with Contempt of Court, Applications for enforcement may also be made; the CPR relating to third party debt orders and charging orders are applied as are the remaining rules of the Supreme Court 1965 in relation to enforcement of judgments and orders and writs of execution fieri facias (writs and warrants of control, post April 2014) All this said the Court of Protection jurisdiction is limited to the promotion of ‘the purposes of’ (my emphasis) the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) and, it follows, the appropriate order may be, from time to time, to direct the Deputy or some other person to take proceedings of a different kind in another court where the objectives fall outside the remit of the MCA.

 

Finally, of course, the court may direct penal notices to be attached to any order, warning the person of the consequences of disobedience to the order i.e. that it would be a contempt of court punishable by imprisonment and or a fine (or where relevant sequestration of assets). An application for committal of a person for contempt can be made to any judge of the Court of Protection by issuing an Application Notice stating the grounds of the application supported by affidavit in accordance with practice directions. (COPR 2007 makes additional provisions). In addition to this the court may make an order for committal on its own initiative against a person guilty of contempt of court which may include misbehaviour in the face of the court.

 

Initially the Local Authority considered that it had been comprehensively thwarted by Mr MASM’s unilateral actions. In a response which I considered to be supine, they advance no opposition to Mr MASM’s application to withdraw the proceedings. I was roundly critical of that reaction. Mrs MMAM had been rescued from squalor and neglect. I have been shown photographs of her previous living conditions. Her grandson, the man who negotiated what he calls her “repatriation” was living in the same house as his grandmother whilst her circumstances had reduced to the parlous conditions that I have described. In addition, Mrs MMAM lacked capacity in relation to medical, welfare and litigation decisions. Moreover she was in addition gravely ill physically. Local Authority’s simply have to absorb the extent of their responsibilities in these challenging cases. Vulnerable adults must be protected every bit as sedulously as vulnerable children. I emphasise that it is the safeguarding obligation that is similar- I do not suggest that vulnerable adults and children should be regarded as the same. Accordingly, I asked the Local Authority, the Official Solicitor and Mr MASM to reflect on the questions identified in paragraph 13 above.

I

 

 

Rather interestingly, both the LA and the family were submitting to the Court that the Court of Protection’s power in terms of making a declaration of best interests was a narrow one, limited to making a declaration of what was in MMAM’s best interests and not to making a prohibitive order.

 

If the declaration of interests was looked at in that way, the Court had not, and could not, make an order that prohibited the family removing MMAM and thus there was no order that could amount to a contempt of Court or a committal for contempt.

 

The Official Solicitor took a different view (and placed reliance on amongst others, a case called Long Wellesley, involving wardship and an MP removing his daughter from wardship without permission)

 

The Official Solicitor distils from these authorities the following propositions, namely that where:

 

  1. i) an application was issued in the Court of Protection specifically seeking the Court’s permission to remove P from the jurisdiction;

 

  1. ii) the court was seized of the matter;

 

iii) the court declared on an interim basis that it is in P’s best interests to live at a certain address within the jurisdiction;

 

  1. iv) it follows that a party, with knowledge of the application and court’s orders would commit a contempt of court by removing or organising for the removal of P from the jurisdiction without the court’s permission.

 

It is contended that this amounts to a contempt of court, even when no injunctive order has been made. In essence the argument is:

 

  1. i) the principles of wardship and parens patriae should apply to the Court of Protection, given the supervisory and protective nature of the Court of Protection’s jurisdiction, and P should be protected as would a ward of court and/or because;

 

  1. ii) such a person would be deliberately treating the declaratory order of the court as unworthy of notice.

 

 

 

So, the question is :- is a declaration of best interests something that if a person knows of it and thwarts it, a contempt of Court? Or is that only the case if the Court has the power to, and decides to, make an order that is prohibitive in nature and clear on the face of the order what a breach would be and what the consequences of breach might be.

 

That is, the difference between an order that says:-

 

It is in MMAM’s best interests to live at 22 Tupperware Court, Ker-Plunk

 

And

 

It is in MMAM’s best interests to live at 22 Tupperware Court, Ker-Plunk and her son and grandson shall not remove her from that property nor instruct others to do so. [and when sent to her son and grandson, the order also says “you must obey this order. If you do not, you may be sent to prison for contempt of court”]

 

You don’t often have cases in family law (or Court of Protection) where the litigation about the Spycatcher book is important, but in this one, it was an important part of the judicial reasoning as to what the status of a declaration of best interests was.

 

[It is a fascinating analysis, but beyond the scope of this piece – if you are interested in the fine detail, the judgment is well worth reading]

 

 

Drawing the strands of the case law, the legal framework and the agreed facts together, the following points emerge:-

 

  1. i) The Court made clear personal welfare decisions on behalf of an incapacitated woman which every party agreed to be in her best interests;

 

  1. ii) Breach of Court Orders even in the absence of a Penal Notice may nonetheless potentially be a contempt where there is a wanton disregard for the court’s decision;

 

iii) Some case law also suggests that in the exercise of the parens patriae any action hampering the objectives of the court is an interference with the administration of justice and therefore a criminal contempt see RE B(JA) (an infant) 1965 CH1112 at P1117:

 

‘any action which tends to hamper the court in carrying out its duty [to protects it’s ward] is an interference with the administration of justice and a criminal contempt’

 

 

If that third point applied to vulnerable adults, then a contempt of court could arise in circumstances where a person just hampered or interfered with the best interests decision, rather than in circumstances of the second point (wanton disregard for the Court’s decision)

 

The Official Solicitor was arguing in relation to that third point that in terms of safeguarding vulnerable adults and safeguarding children, the same principles applied in full. Keehan J was more guarded

 

 

Addressing the Official Solicitor’s argument in relation to actions hampering the exercise of the parens patriae I do not consider that the jurisdiction I am exercising here equates seamlessly with the exercise of the parens patriae or wardship jurisdiction in relation to children. Nor do I consider that Munby J intended to go so far in Re SA (supra). Whilst both jurisdictions require there to be a sedulous protection of the vulnerable, there is a paternalistic quality to wardship which does not easily equate to and is perhaps even inconsistent with the protection of the incapacitous adult, in respect of whom capacity will or may vary from day to day or on issue to issue. There is in addition, the obligation to promote a return to capacity wherever possible. The Court of Protection has a protective and supervisory role but wardship goes much further, it invests the judge with ultimate responsibility. The child becomes the judge’s ward. There is no parallel in the Court of Protection and it would be wrong, in my view, to rely on this now dated and limited case law (identified by Mr McKendrick) to permit this Court to reach for a power which is not specifically provided for in the comprehensive legislative framework of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

 

The law in relation to children has also moved on from the landscape surveyed by Lord Atkinson in Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417, particularly since the inception of the Children Act 1989, drafted of course, with ECHR compatibility in mind. Lord Atkinson’s description of a ‘paternal and quasi domestic jurisdiction over the person and property of the wards’ has little resonance for practitioners for whom ‘family life’, protected under Article 8 of the ECHR, is evaluated by analysing competing rights and interests, where the autonomy of the child is also afforded great respect. Unsurprisingly and partly in response to the range of these principles the scope and ambit of wardship has reduced very considerably (Section 100 Children Act 1989 repealed Section 7 of the Family Law Reform Act 1969, the route by which the High Court had derived its power to place a ward of court in the care, or under the supervision of a Local Authority). Whilst Mr McKendrick is entirely right to draw this line of authority to my attention, the position in relation to wardship is, to my mind, largely anomalous, predicated as it is on the somewhat artificial premise that the court represents the Sovereign as parens patriae and cannot therefore be resolving contested issues as between the parties in an non adversarial arena (see Arlidge, Eady and Smith on contempt (4 edition) (Para 11-338). Mr McKendrick put much emphasis on the judgment of Munby J in Re SA (Vulnerable Adult with Capacity: Marriage) [2005] EWHC 2942 (Fam), [2006] 1 FLR 867, para 84. In particular he referred me to par 84:

 

“As I have said, the court exercises what is, in substance and reality, a jurisdiction in relation to incompetent adults which is for all practical purposes indistinguishable from its well-established jurisdiction in relation to children. There is little, if any, practical difference between the types of orders that can be made in exercise of the two jurisdictions.”

It is important to emphasise that Munby J whilst emphasising the similarity of the two jurisdictions ‘for all practical purposes’ also notes the essentially different, indeed unique, nature of the wardship jurisdiction, later in the same paragraph:

 

“The main difference is that the court cannot make an adult a ward of court. So the particular status which wardship automatically confers on a child who is a ward of court – for example, the fact that a ward of court cannot marry or leave the jurisdiction without the consent of the court – has no parallel in the case of the adult jurisdiction. In the absence of express orders, the attributes or incidents of wardship do not attach to an adult.”

 

 

Keehan J decided that ultimately, the third point did not apply to vulnerable adults, and that despite the family’s conduct being entirely inimical to MMAM’s welfare and wellbeing, what was needed for a contempt and a committal remedy in Court of Protection cases was an order drawn in a prohibitive way with a penal notice. Keehan J decided that the Court of Protection had powers under s16 Mental Capacity Act 2005 to make such orders arising from their declaration of best interests

 

 

Ultimately, a declaration of best interests connotes the superlative or extreme quality of welfare options. It by no means follows automatically that an alternative course of action to that determined in the Declaration, is contrary to an individual’s welfare. There may, in simple terms, be a ‘second best’ option. For this reason, such a declaration cannot be of the same complexion as a Court Order. It lacks both the necessary clarity and fails to carry any element of mandatory imperative. I am ultimately not prepared to go as far as Mr McKendrick urges me to and elevate the remit of the Court of Protection, in its welfare decision making, to such a level that anything hampering the court in the exercise of its duty, or perpetrated in wanton defiance of its objectives is capable, without more, of being an interference with the administration of justice and therefore criminal contempt. Such an approach would it seems to me be entirely out of step with the development of our understanding of the importance of proper and fair process where the liberty of the individual is concerned. I would add that this has long been foreshadowed by the recognition that the necessary standard of proof in a application to commit is the criminal standard.

 

 

Moreover, though my order of 20th February 2015 was expressed to have been made pursuant to section 16, it was drafted in declaratory terms. As such, for the reasons I have set out above, it cannot, in my judgement, trigger contempt proceedings. There cannot be ‘defiance’ of a ‘declaration’ nor can there be an ‘enforcement’ of one. A declaration is ultimately no more than a formal, explicit statement or announcement. That said I emphasise that Mr MASM, in fact acted, through the agency of his son, in a way which was cynically contrary to his mother’s best interests. The course he took was not a ‘second best’ option but one entirely inimical to his mother’s welfare, physically, mentally and emotionally. He has frustrated the objectives of the litigation but he is not, as I ultimately find, acting in defiance of an order and therefore is not exposed to contempt proceedings.

 

 

 

As a result, there was no legal power, from the orders that were in placed, to lodge a committal notice or to commit the family to prison for their actions. All that Keehan J could do was to criticise them for their actions and order that they pay the costs of this hearing (which were probably considerable, given the amount of legal research that was needed – once people get into reading Spycatcher and 1831 cases about dubious MPs http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1831/jul/19/privilege-case-of-mr-long-wellesley not to mention the entire law of contempt, wardship and penal notices, the costs do mount up)

 

He also suggested that the LA should probably think very hard about whether it was sensible for the son to remain MMAM’s deputy with powers over her financial affairs.

 

As for more general guidance

 

 

Such guidance as I can give can only be limited:

 

  1. i) Many orders pursuant to Section 16 seem to me to be perfectly capable of being drafted in clear unequivocal and even, where appropriate, prescriptive language. This Section provides for the ‘making of orders’ as well as ‘taking decisions’ in relation to P’s personal welfare, property or affairs. Where the issues are highly specific or indeed capable of being drafted succinctly as an order they should be so, rather than as more nebulous declarations. Where a determination of the court is capable of being expressed with clarity there are many and obvious reasons why it should be so;

 

  1. ii) In cases which require that P, for whatever reason, reside at a particular place the parties and the court should always consider whether to reinforce that order, under Section 16, by a declaration, pursuant to Section 15, clarifying that it will be unlawful to remove P or to permit or facilitate removal other than by order of the court;

 

iii) In cases where the evidence suggests there may be potential for a party to disobey the order or frustrate the plans for P approved by the court as in his best interest, the Official Solicitor or Local Authority should consider inviting the court to seek undertakings from the relevant party. If there is a refusal to give undertakings then orders may be appropriate;

 

  1. iv) Where a potential breach is identified the Local Authority and/or the Official Solicitor should regard it as professional duty to bring the matter to the immediate attention to the court. This obligation is a facet of the requirement to act sedulously in the protection of the vulnerable;

 

  1. v) Thought must always be given to the objectives and proportionality of any committal proceedings see Re Whiting (supra).

Seeking costs against the Public Guardian in a financial safeguarding case

 

The Public Guardian and CT and EY 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/51.html

 

As District Judge Lush observed, this is the first reported case where a costs order has been sought against the Public Guardian.

 

By way of quick background, CT is 85 and had a stroke a year ago, which later led to a diagnosis of dementia. There has been a considerable family schism, and CT is close to his daughter EY but not close to much of the rest of his family.

 

A month after his stroke, he entered into a Lasting Power of Attorney arrangement, appointing EY as his sole attorney.

 

In July 2014, the Public Guardian, having received a referral that EY was misusing the Lasting Power of Attorney, conducted an investigation and made an application to the Court of Protection under s48 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 for declarations about whether CT had capacity and if not what directions / declarations should be made about his affairs.

 

  1. The application was accompanied by a witness statement made by David Richards, an investigations officer with the OPG, who said that:

 

 

(a) in September 2013 CT’s son and daughter-in-law had raised concerns with the OPG.

 

(b) on 13 June 2013 CT had severed the joint tenancy of the matrimonial home and the adjoining property, which he and his wife also own.

 

(c) CT had ceased paying the utility bills on the matrimonial home; had stopped transferring housekeeping money to his wife, and had closed their joint bank account.

 

(d) in September 2013 CT applied to the Land Registry to register the matrimonial home in his sole name.

 

(e) on 30 September 2013 a Court of Protection General Visitor, Emma Farrar, saw him at Grays Court Community Hospital. She thought that CT possibly could suspend or revoke the LPA, but that he would require considerable support in doing so.

 

(f) Havering Social Services had raised a safeguarding alert.

 

(g) the OPG asked EY for an account of her dealings.

 

(h) EY replied her father still had capacity and that the OPG’s enquiries were an invasion of his privacy.

 

(i) in January 2014 the OPG commissioned a visit from a Court of Protection Special Visitor (Dr T.G. Tennent, DM, FRCPsych) but EY and her partner, who is employed by Moss & Coleman Solicitors, refused to let him visit CT.

 

(j) Dr Tennent was, nevertheless able to examine CT’s medical records, and in his report, dated 31 March 2103, he came to the conclusion that CT had capacity (a) to make the LPA and (b) to sever the joint tenancies, but that it was “impossible to offer any opinion as to Mr Todd’s current capacity in relation to the queries (c) to (j).”

 

 

There then follows a somewhat complex history, but the substance of it was that the expert who examined CT, Professor Jacoby, was of the view that CT’s capacity fluctuated, but that there were times and had been times when he had had capacity to make his own financial decisions (and thus the LPA wasn’t being used at all at those times)

 

  1. Professor Jacoby prefaced his assessment of CT’s capacity with the following preliminary remarks:

 

 

 

“I shall deal with the separate capacities as set out in my instructions which were taken from the directions order of 20 August 2014. Before doing so I wish to stress that I am relying on CT’s mental state as I observed it on 2 October 2014. However, I believe his mental state fluctuates both as regards his dementia and his episodes of delirium. I should make the following preliminary remarks:

 

 

(a) When he is delirious, in my opinion, he does not have any of the capacities listed below.

 

(b) When he is not delirious, but his dementia is more prominent, his capacities are weaker than when he is at his best.

 

(c) When he is at his best he does retain some capacities as described below.

 

(d) When he is at his best he is able to communicate his decisions, and I shall not comment further on this fourth limb of section 3(1) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

 

(e) When at his best I believe that his capacities can be enhanced by assistance in line with the judgment of Gibson LJ in Hoff et al v Atherton [2003] EWCA Civ 1554, in which he stated “it is a general requirement of the law that for a juristic act to be valid, the person performing it should have the mental capacity (with the assistance of such explanation as may have been given [my italics]) to understand the nature and effect of the particular act (see, for example, Re K (Enduring Powers of Attorney) [1988] Ch 310 at p. 313 per Hoffmann J.).” As I understand it, although I may be corrected by the court, giving assistance to persons with marginal capacities in order to enhance them is within the spirit of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.”

 

 

  1. Professor Jacoby concluded his report as follows:

 

 

 

“In my opinion, when CT is at his current best and not in an episode of delirium, he retains the capacity to manage his affairs and to revoke or make an LPA, but that his capacities would be enhanced by disinterested advice. His capacity to litigate is not totally lacking but is, in my opinion, below a sufficient threshold, and he would, therefore, require a litigation friend.”

 

If CT had capacity at the time when he made decisions to sever the tenancy, stop paying money to his estranged wife and so on, then this was not a matter for the Court of Protection. As we know, if a person has capacity, then they can make decisions for themselves that another person might consider foolish or ill-conceived.

 

EY sought that the application be dismissed and sought that the Office of the Public Guardian should pay the costs.

 

  1. On 14 August 2014 EY filed an acknowledgment of service, accompanied by a witness statement, in which she objected to the application and said that:

 

 

 

“The evidence in the attached witness statement shows unequivocally that CT had the capacity to make complex decisions in relation to his finances and property in September 2013. He underwent a further capacity assessment in November 2013 prior to discharge from hospital after nearly six months treatment and he was again assessed as having the capacity to make the very difficult and important decision as to his destination and future place of residence following his discharge. There has been no stroke activity since the incident in May 2013, nor any other event which might cause or signal a material change in his capacity since the last test was carried out some nine months ago. There is therefore no valid reason why he should not be presumed to have capacity at this time.”

 

 

  1. EY proposed that “the application be dismissed and the OPG be ordered to pay the respondents’ costs (including the costs of taking legal advice).”

 

 

In most financial disputes, the person who loses the case is at risk of being ordered to pay the other side’s legal costs. It is a little different in Court of Protection cases.

 

Firstly, the Court of Protection have a general discretion (subject to other Rules) Section 55(1) MCA 2005 provides that “Subject to Court of Protection Rules, the costs of and incidental to all proceedings in the court are at its discretion.”

 

In terms of those Rules, they are set out in the Court of Protection Rules 2007 – they can be simplified like this:-

 

  • Normally if the proceedings relate to property of a vulnerable person, the costs of the proceedings are paid by that person or his estate
  • That starting point can be departed from if the Court thinks it is justified, and can take into account the conduct of the parties.
  • Conduct can include a wide variety of things, including before proceedings began.

 

 

Property and affairs – the general rule

 

 

  1. Where the proceedings concern P’s property and affairs the general rule is that the costs of the proceedings, or of that part of the proceedings that concerns P’s property and affairs, shall be paid by P or charged to his estate.

 

 

Departing from the general rule

 

 

  1. – (1) The court may depart from rules 156 to 158 if the circumstances so justify, and in deciding whether departure is justified the court will have regard to all the circumstances, including:

 

(a) the conduct of the parties;

(b) whether a party has succeeded on part of his case, even if he has not been wholly successful; and

(c) the role of any public body involved in the proceedings.

 

(2) The conduct of the parties includes:

 

(a) conduct before, as well as during, the proceedings;

(b) whether it was reasonable for a party to raise, pursue or contest a particular issue;

(c) the manner in which a party has made or responded to an application or a particular issue; and

(d) whether a party who has succeeded in his application or response to an application, in whole or in part, exaggerated any matter contained in his application or response.

 

(3) Without prejudice to rules 156 to 158 and the foregoing provisions of this rule, the court may permit a party to recover their fixed costs in accordance with the relevant practice direction.

 

 

 

In this situation, EY argued that the Office of the Public Guardian had really jumped the gun – they had brought a case based on EY misusing the Lasting Power of Attorney, when closer investigation would have shown that the decisions complained of had been made by CT himself. If the Public Guardian had conducted the investigation properly, there would have been no application and thus CT and EY would not have incurred any legal costs.

 

District Judge Lush felt that things were more complicated than that – the assessment of capacity had shown that CT’s capacity fluctuated and thus there had been times when EY was (or ought to have been) exercising the Lasting Power of Attorney.

 

The Judge also felt that EY had been obstructive in the investigation, causing some of these problems as a result of her own actions.

 

  1. EY makes the point that she was not using the LPA because CT still had capacity, but even this is disingenuous. Professor Jacoby states in his report that “He is subject to recurrent episodes of delirium. … When he is delirious, in my opinion, he does not have any of the capacities listed below.” She should have been using the LPA during the recurrent episodes when CT lacked capacity.

 

 

  1. The point is made that CT’s capacity should have been presumed. The precise wording of section 1(2) of the Mental Capacity Act is that “a person is assumed to have capacity unless it is established that he lacks capacity.” The Court of Protection General Visitor believed that CT possibly could suspend or revoke the LPA, but that he would require considerable support in doing so. The reason why the OPG asked a Special Visitor to see CT was so that a specialist could look for objective evidence that would be sufficient, on the balance of probabilities, to establish whether CT had capacity or not and, accordingly, whether the Court of Protection had jurisdiction or not.

 

 

  1. EY would not allow the Court of Protection Special Visitor to examine CT because she mistrusted anything to do with the OPG. The Special Visitor’s report would have been provided to CT free of charge, from public funds, but EY insisted on instructing an independent expert, instead. This resulted in the proceedings being more expensive and protracted than they need have been.

 

 

  1. I have no real concerns about the OPG’s conduct. Any investigation will seem heavy-handed to the person under the spotlight, but the OPG’s conduct was by no means disproportionate and does not even approach the threshold identified by Mr Justice Jonathan Baker in G v E (Costs). The OPG certainly did not act in blatant disregard of the Mental Capacity Act processes or in breach of CT’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Having regard to all the circumstances, it would be unjust to penalise the OPG by way of a costs order.

 

 

 

Bearing in mind the usual rule, the legal costs of all of the proceedings would be met by CT. The Judge, having been invited to look at costs, had to consider whether that approach would be fair and just, given the actions of EY.

 

(This must have caused a bitter taste – having asked for the Public Guardian to pay the costs, EY found herself at risk of having to pay a portion of the costs herself)

 

  1. There is no doubt about it. EY and her partner refused, without reasonable cause, to let the Special Visitor visit CT or even speak to him over the phone. Dr Tennent’s report of 31 March 2014 stated:

 

 

 

“Over the course of these conversations EY referred everything to her partner. Quite politely they told me that CT did not want to see me but would not permit me to speak directly with him. They would not provide me with the name or address of CT’s current general practitioner. As I understood it, they were of the view that although CT had made an LPA he was still capable of managing his own affairs and they were not using the LPA and therefore the OPG should not be involved with his affairs. They told me that they were in correspondence with the Office of the Public Guardian about the matter and that until this had been resolved they did not want me to visit their home.”

 

 

  1. EY’s insinuation that a Court of Protection Special Visitor is neither independent nor impartial is both unwarranted and offensive.

 

 

  1. For me, the most striking feature of Professor Jacoby’s report was the repetition of a theme, which, like Ravel’s Boléro, rises in a continuous crescendo.

 

 

  1. In response to question (2) he said:

 

 

 

“Again, I consider that he would benefit from disinterested advice before making this decision.”

 

 

  1. He deliberately highlighted the word ‘disinterested’ by italicising it.

 

 

  1. In response to question (4), he said:

 

 

 

“Where more complex decisions are required he would, in my opinion, benefit from disinterested advice.”

 

 

  1. In his reply to question (5), Professor Jacoby said:

 

 

 

“I consider that at his best CT does retain the capacity to give instructions to his attorney in relation to his property and affairs, and that he would benefit from disinterested advice for more complex decisions.”

 

 

  1. In his conclusion, which I have set out in paragraph 23, he said:

 

 

 

“… his capacities would be enhanced by disinterested advice.”

 

 

  1. And in response to question (4) again, the professor actually ventured to say that:

 

 

 

“I am not making any comment here about the quality of the advice he now gets from EY because this is beyond my remit and I have no information on it anyway. However, because he is now dependent on her for his day to day care he might be more likely to accept her advice without more careful consideration.”

 

 

  1. I have never before read a report on someone’s capacity that has contained so many references to the need for ‘disinterested advice’. The only interpretation of this can be that Professor Jacoby believed that, although CT still has capacity in certain areas, he is being influenced by his daughter, and her advice is anything but disinterested.

 

 

[

 

The Judge decided that it would be wrong for CT to be ordered to pay EY’s legal costs, and EY would be responsible for her own costs

 

 

Decision

 

 

  1. If I were to apply the general rule for costs in a property and affairs case (rule 156), I would be required to order CT to pay the costs of these proceedings.

 

 

  1. The Public Guardian was seeking no order as to his own costs, whereas EY was seeking an order that her costs should be paid by the Public Guardian.

 

 

  1. For the reasons given above, and having regard to all the circumstances, I consider that a departure from the general rule is justified and I shall order EY to pay her own costs because her conduct, before and during the proceedings, has been aggressive and disingenuous and has resulted in both sides’ costs being far greater than they would otherwise have been.

 

 

  1. The overall effect is that I shall make no order for costs, though, having agreed to commission a report from a single joint expert, the Public Guardian and EY are jointly liable to pay a half of Professor Jacoby’s fee of £2,200 (£1,850 + VAT) for reading the documents, travelling from Oxfordshire to Essex, examining CT, and writing his report.

 

 

 

There is scope for a costs order to be made against the Office of the Public Guardian, if they behaved unreasonably in the course of the litigation, but this was not the case for it.

 

As my old law tutor used to say about Equity – “he who comes to Court must come with clean hands”

 

Beware the PLO my son! the jaws that bite, the claws that catch (Is the PLO coming to Court of Protection?)

 

Having opened with Lewis Carroll, I’ll digress to Bruce Springsteen – if you practice in the Court of Protection –  “You’d better not pout, you’d better not cry, you’d better watch out, I’m telling you why – the PLO is coming to town”

 

Cases A and B (Court of Protection : Delay and Costs) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/48.html

Mr Justice Peter Jackson  (I know, it is supposed to be Jackson J, but when there are two Jackson J’s, that just causes confusion) gave a judgment in two linked Court of Protection cases that had gone on an inordinate length of time and cost an inordinate amount of public money, and ended with this exhortation to the President  (who of course wears those two hats of President of the Family Division And President of the Court of Protection)

 

The purpose of this judgment is to express the view that the case management provisions in the Court of Protection Rules have proved inadequate on their own to secure the necessary changes in practice. While cases about children and cases about incapacitated adults have differences, their similarities are also obvious. There is a clear procedural analogy to be drawn between many welfare proceedings in the Court of Protection and proceedings under the Children Act. As a result of the Public Law Outline, robust case management, use of experts only where necessary, judicial continuity, and a statutory time-limit, the length of care cases has halved in two years. Yet Court of Protection proceedings can commonly start with no timetable at all for their conclusion, nor any early vision of what an acceptable outcome would look like. The young man in Case B is said to have a mental age of 8. What would we now say if it took five years – or 18 months – to decide the future of an 8-year-old?

 

I therefore believe that the time has come to introduce the same disciplines in the Court of Protection as now apply in the Family Court. Accordingly, and at his request, I am sending a copy of this judgment to the President of the Court of Protection, Sir James Munby, for his consideration.

 

Brace yourselves, Court of Protection folk, for “streamlining” and “case management” and “standardised documents” most of which will make you wish that you had taken a different career path – for example, rather than “Law” that you had decided to become a practice subject for CIA agents working on their interrogation techniques.

The Judge has a point here, we absolutely would not tolerate cases involving a vulnerable 8 year old taking 5 years* (*although see case after case of private law children cases that drag on for years and years) and costing this sort of money.

 

  1. In Case A, the proceedings lasted for 18 months. In round figures, the estimated legal costs were £140,000, of which about £60,000 fell on the local authority, £11,000 on a legally-aided family member, and £69,000 on the young man himself, paid from his damages.
  2. In Case B, the proceedings lasted for five years. In round figures, the estimated legal costs were £530,000, of which about £169,000 fell on the local authority, £110,000 on a family member (who ran out of money after three years and represented himself thereafter), and £250,000 on the young man himself, paid for out of legal aid.
  3. These figures are conservative estimates.
  4. Each case therefore generated legal costs at a rate of approximately £9,000 per month.

 

The Judge draws a comparison between taxi drivers and advocates (and not the usual “cab-rank principle” one)

  1. Just as the meter in a taxi keeps running even when not much is happening, so there is a direct correlation between delay and expense. As noted above, the great majority of the cost of these cases fell on the state. Public money is in short supply, not least in the area of legal aid, and must be focussed on where it is most needed: there are currently cases in the Family Court that cannot be fairly tried for lack of paid legal representation. Likewise, Court of Protection cases like these are of real importance and undoubtedly need proper public funding, but they are almost all capable of being decided quickly and efficiently, as the Rules require.
  2. In short, whether we are spending public or private money, the court and the parties have a duty to ensure that the costs are reasonable. That duty perhaps bites particularly sharply when we are deciding that an incapacitated person’s money should be spent on deciding his future, whether he likes it or not.

 

It is very hard to argue against that, and there can be little worse than burning through a vulnerable person’s money in order to protect them from financial or alleged financial abuse (see for example Re G, and the “94 year old woman subject to gagging order” case)

 

What drives up those costs? The Judge identified two major things – a search for a perfect solution, rather than a decent solution that carries with it some imperfections, and a tendency to deal with every concievable issue rather than to focus on what really matters.

 

A common driver of delay and expense is the search for the ideal solution, leading to decent but imperfect outcomes being rejected. People with mental capacity do not expect perfect solutions in life, and the requirement in Section 1(5) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that “An act done, or decision made, under this Act for or on behalf of a person who lacks capacity must be done, or made, in his best interests.” calls for a sensible decision, not the pursuit of perfection.

Likewise, there is a developing practice in these cases of addressing every conceivable legal or factual issue, rather than concentrating on the issues that really need to be resolved. As Mrs Justice Parker said in Re PB [2014] EWCOP 14:

“All those who practice in the Court of Protection must appreciate that those who represent the vulnerable who cannot give them capacitous instructions have a particular responsibility to ensure that the arguments addressed are proportionate and relevant to the issues, to the actual facts with which they are dealing rather than the theory, and to have regard to the public purse, court resources and other court users.”

  1. There is also a tendency for professional co-operation to be dissipated in litigation. This was epitomised in Case A, where the litigation friend’s submission focussed heavily on alleged shortcomings by the local authority, even to the extent that it was accompanied by a dense document entitled “Chronology of Faults”. But despite this, the author had no alternative solution to offer. The role of the litigation friend in representing P’s interests is not merely a passive one, discharged by critiquing other peoples’ efforts. Where he considers it in his client’s interest, he is entitled to research and present any realistic alternatives.
  2. The problem of excessive costs is not confined to the Court of Protection. In his recent judgment in J v J [2014] EWHC 3654 (Fam). Mr Justice Mostyn referred to the £920,000 spent by a divorcing couple on financial proceedings as “grotesque”. In V v V [2011] EWHC 1190 (Fam), I described the sum of £925,000 spent by a couple who had not even begun their financial proceedings as “absurd”. Yet everyday experience in the High Court, Family Court and Court of Protection shows that these are by no means isolated examples: in some case the costs are even greater. There is a danger that we become habituated to what Mostyn J called “this madness”, and that we admire the problem instead of eliminating it.
  3. The main responsibility for this situation and its solution must lie with the court, which has the power to control its proceedings.

 

I hope that if there is going to be a committee or working group on solving some of the problems in the Court of Protection that they can co-opt Mr Justice Peter Jackson and District Judge Eldergill onto it – both of them are extremely sensitive and sensible Judges and the Court of Protection could do a lot worse than have its future steered by them.

No point being the richest woman in the graveyard

Re JI (revocation of lasting power of attorney) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/36.html

 

This was a Court of Protection decision by Senior Judge Lush, who I’ve reported on a lot and who is a Judge that always does a good judgment.

 

It was a case of alleged financial abuse of a vulnerable person by a member of their family appointed to look after their money for them. I know that the Court of Protection has its critics – myself included sometimes, but without them, this woman would have been bled dry by this relative, her own daughter.

 

JL was born in 1938 and lives in her own home in Essex. JL has Alzheimer’s disease.

 On 8 October 2013 she executed a digital LPA for property and financial affairs and, as far as I am aware, this is the first occasion on which the court has considered a digital LPA in the context of an application to revoke the appointment of an attorney.

 

 The LPA was drawn up by JL’s daughter AS online and, perhaps not surprisingly, JL appointed AS to be her sole attorney. She did not receive any independent advice about the creation of the LPA, though AS claims that she fully explained the document to her mother before she signed it.

 

 A friend of the family witnessed JL’s signature and acted as the certificate provider. The function of the certificate provider is to certify that:

 

(a) the donor understands the purpose of the LPA and the scope of the authority conferred under it;

 

(b) no fraud or undue pressure is being used to induce the donor to create the LPA; and

 

(c) there is nothing else which would prevent the LPA from being created by the completion of the prescribed form.

 

Over a period of time, it became apparent that JL was living in squalor and not having her financial needs met – although she had capital funds to provide for her, she was not being given the money she needed.

 

(a) Essex County Council reported its concerns to the OPG on 24 April 2014.

 

(b) Copies of JL’s bank statements revealed that there had been a number of excessive and uncharacteristic withdrawals from her funds.

 

(c) From 18 January to 9 April 2014 there had been twenty-five cheque withdrawals ‘paid to cash’ totalling £4,290. These payments averaged £171 and were withdrawn every few days.

 

(d) Over the same period JL’s only capital asset other than her home had halved in value to £10,669 and, at the current level of expenditure, her funds would be entirely depleted within nine months.

 

(e) The investigator at the OPG spoke over the phone to JL’s social worker, Sharon Morris, who stated that a man, who had recently been released from prison, had offered JL £100 to perform a sexual act for him.

 

(f) JL had told Sharon Morris that her attorney kept her so short of money that she considered prostitution as the only way of resolving the problem.

 

(g) In particular, JL said she needed the money so that she could pay the train fare from Sheffield for her son to visit her (£100) and to compensate him for the overtime he would otherwise have earned but for the visit (£80).

 

(h) AS, on the other hand, claimed she gave her mother £600 a month spending money.

 

(i) JL was paying £32 a month for her daughter’s T-Mobile phone contract, but many other bills were left unpaid and she owed £946 to Npower.

 

 

The daughter objected to being removed as an Attorney and for Essex to be appointed in her stead. The Court heard evidence and had to apply the tests of the Mental Capacity Act.

 

 

I am, indeed, satisfied that AS has behaved in a way that contravenes her authority and is not in JL’s best interests.

 

(a) She admits that she failed to keep proper accounts and financial records.

 

(b) Her explanation for the dramatic increase in JL’s expenditure was “there is no point in her being the wealthiest woman in the graveyard.”

 

(c) She profited from her position by using her mother’s money to pay her own mobile phone bill.

 

(d) There is evidence that she placed JL under pressure regarding this matter.

 

As this had been a Lasting Power of Attorney set up online, with no independent person explaining things to JL (who had capacity at that time – or at least, one hopes so – part of the danger of doing it online is that she doesn’t necessarily meet with anyone independent to confirm that), it becomes even more important that the Attorney who signs the document saying that it has all been explained to JL actually does this proper job of explanation. Otherwise it looks like a snow job.

 

I shall consider these reasons in a little more detail. First, AS admits that she failed to keep proper records and accounts. At the hearing she said she did not know she had to keep accounts and that she had not read the declaration in Part C of the prescribed form of LPA, which she had signed. It says:

 

 

“I understand my role and responsibilities under this lasting power of attorney, in particular:

I have a duty to keep accounts and financial records and produce them to the Office of the Public Guardian and/or to the Court of Protection on request.”

 

This admission is damning enough, but it gives rise to additional concern about the circumstances in which the LPA was created. If AS failed to read Part C, it makes it hard to believe her assertion that she had carefully read and explained to her mother the contents of Part A of the LPA – the part that the donor is required to complete.

 

 

AS’s retort that there was no point in her mother being the wealthiest woman in the graveyard is trite and misses the point. JL is far from being a wealthy woman and what funds she has should be applied for her benefit and in her best interests. She lives in squalor. When Social Services initially visited her on 1 July 2013 they observed animal faeces on the carpets from her dog and three cats. Her food had a layer of mould on it, but she was nevertheless reheating and eating it, and she had neither washed nor changed her clothes for six months.

 

[But hey, as long as the daughter’s mobile phone bill is getting paid, everything is fine, right?]

 

Finally, as regards AS exerting pressure on JL, in her witness statement dated 26 September 2014 JL’s social worker, Sharon Morris, said:

 

 

“JL has discussed concerns regarding her relationship with her daughter AS with me on several occasions. JL can get very anxious when at times she cannot contact her for days. She does not answer her calls or the door when she visits. On the occasions she does meet with her daughter she reports that she shouts at her and pressurises her for money.”

 

I have to say that from my own observation of AS’s demeanour at the hearing that she came over as forceful and persistent and I imagine it would be difficult for a lonely, vulnerable woman with a cognitive impairment to resist complying with her wishes and demands.

 

 

The Court, quite rightly, removed AS as an Attorney. It is always a shame when this sort of thing happens, because the best people to look after a vulnerable person and manage their finances are relatives, where possible. But it is vital that those relatives realise that their responsibility is to spend JL’s money on her, and meeting her needs, and not using their vulnerable mother as a personal piggy bank.

 

I am satisfied that (1) AS has behaved in a way that contravenes her authority and is not in JL’s best interests, and (2) JL lacks capacity to revoke the LPA herself, and I shall revoke the LPA for her.

 

 

With regard to the appointment of a deputy for property and affairs, I consider that it would be in JL’s best interests to appoint the authorised officer for property and affairs deputyships of Essex County Council as her substantive deputy. He is already acting as her interim deputy by virtue of my order of 10 June 2014 and JL has expressed a preference that he should continue to manage her funds.

 

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