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Capacity to live with your husband

 

The Court of Protection case of Re PB (2014)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/14.html

 

The case involved a 72 year old woman PB, whom Norfolk CC considered to lack capacity and also felt that she could not safely live in her own home with her husband TB who was 50 and also said to lack capacity.

As ever with the Court of Protection, the first step is to establish whether  a person lacks capacity to make decisions on their own behalf, with the starting point of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 being that they DO unless proved otherwise. A person with capacity is entitled to make poor or foolish decisions, decisions that nobody around them thinks are right. We have autonomy to make our own mistakes, as long as we understand the nature of our decision and what the pros and cons are.

 

We end up with, in the Mental Capacity Act 2005, a clear bright line between someone who has capacity (in which case the Court of Protection have to let them make their own decisions) and someone who does not (in which case the Court of Protection can be asked to make a decision on their behalf striving to do so in their best interests)

Is capaciy really such a clear bright line? This case throws up some doubts for me.

 

Let’s look at what PB herself said to Parker J

 

 

  • PB wrote to me before the hearing. In particular she wrote that “I should like to point out that it is the right of every individual to choose for himself or herself whom to live with and where to live and not to live under the shadow of regimentation and have to live in an institution”.

 

 

 

  • I was asked prior to the hearing, and when I had had no opportunity to assess the background, whether I would see PB at the hearing. I reserved that decision for the trial. At court I was also asked to see TB. I was happy to do so, but stressed that care has to be taken as to how a meeting shall be treated. The protected party does not give an sworn/affirmed account, and in particular if the meeting takes place only in the presence of the judge, with no opportunity to test the evidence, then in my view no factual conclusions save those which relate to the meeting itself should be drawn, in particular with regard to capacity (see YLA v PM and Another [2013] EWHC 4020 (COP) at [35].

 

 

 

  • As it turned out, neither wished to give evidence. They each asked to speak to me in the courtroom with all representatives present. This took place on day three. PB spoke to me first, followed by TB. Each sat close to the bench and was at liberty, as I told them, to talk about what they felt and wanted, and any other topic. They were not cross examined, and I did not ask any questions. I did speak to PB about the medical procedure which she was reluctant to undergo.

 

 

 

  • PB is likeable, highly intelligent, sophisticated and articulate, well-read and knowledgeable. She writes poetry. With regard to marriage she told me “Let no man put asunder” and “once a couple are married – meant to be together”. She denied that she had been ill for 50 years. She stated “I haven’t lived with my siblings for 50 years”.

 

 

 

  • It is obvious to me from all that I have read and heard as well as from the meeting that PB’s intellectual understanding is at a high level. She stated “I understand that this Act only came in in 2005. I wonder whether it’s working out as it should be”.

 

 

 

  • She told me, when asked what she wanted to happen, “I’d like to be free to wander the universe without being told to sit down and be quiet”, “I’d like to get my poetry published”, “I’d like [TB] to be always at my side”, and “I’ve never hit a carer” (the evidence is that she has).

 

 

 

  • TB is also likeable, and he was articulate and sincere. He said “How do you take decisions” “we have a lot of confidence in one another, we should be living together as man and wife”, “The social worker has done a good job”. He wants to go back to F House to be with PB. He volunteered that he had “tapped the manager on the nose”.

 

 

 

  • I accept that whatever their respective problems this couple has a long standing and committed relationship and that they love one another dearly. There is no issue as to their capacity to marry: the marriage was celebrated many decades ago

 

 

 

PB here comes across as intelligent and articulate – the Judge saying that her intellectul understanding is at a high level  (her critique of the Mental Capacity Act is one which is put very well, and which many people share)

 

What did the medical experts say about her capacity?

 

 

  • Particularly since PB presents in a sophisticated manner, as Dr Khalifa told me, it has been an advantage for me to have had the treating physician with long term knowledge to give evidence on the issues. Dr Khalifa stems from Sudan but has worked in Ireland before coming to practice in England as a consultant in old age psychiatry. English is not her first language and her idiomatic understanding has some gaps. That gave rise to a misunderstanding in writing, as will be seen. Her reports were also not clear, taken in conjunction with the joint statement (appended hereto).

 

 

 

  • There is a considerable degree of consensus between the experts:

 

 

i) Dr Barker thinks that the diagnosis is schizo-affective disorder. Dr Khalifa thinks it is residual schizophrenia. I agree, as the doctors agreed, that this makes no difference to their overall views.

ii) Both agree that PB has cognitive problems. Dr Khalifa says that she has compromised executive function stemming from her frontal lobe. This is a known problem in schizophrenia. Dr Barker accepts that she has frontal lobe damage, which he described as “mild brain damage”. Dr Barker also thinks that she has an “ageing brain”.

 

  • Dr Khalifa explained in oral evidence (which she gave the day after Dr Barker) that:

 

 

i) Executive dysfunction is progressive.

ii) It is implicated in planning, judgment, and decision making.

iii) PB has problems with working memory, keeping information “on line”, and manipulating the information to make a decision.

iv) She suffers from “poverty of thought” (a global reduction in her quality of thought where the person keeps returning to the same limited ideas).

v) She shows “negative thinking” and lack of initiative.

vi) She is unable to judge situations.

vii) She has problems in “set shifting”: that is in shifting her choice to a new one in the face of negative feedback, and the ability to stick to a new choice.

viii) She has problems in doing more than one thing simultaneously.

ix) Other problems are of selecting appropriate responses and inhibiting inappropriate ones, of generating plans and resolving problems.

x) She cannot compare the risks and the benefits.

 

  • This formulation had not been put forward by Dr Barker and he was not asked about it, since Dr Khalifa’s formulation was not elicited until she gave evidence. But the upshot is that it was not challenged. Nothing that Dr Barker said was inconsistent with it.

 

 

 

  • Dr Khalifa states that PB suffers from intense anxiety which can reach clinical levels and which prevents her from making a decision. She “gets stuck”, as described by Ms Thompson. Dr Barker thinks that many people without mental health problems have problems making difficult decisions. But he agrees that PB’s anxiety can reach clinical levels so that it constitutes impairment/ disturbance.

 

 

 

  • Broadly, Dr Barker is not certain about the extent to which PB’s decisions may be based on her beliefs about marriage, and to what extent TB’s influence leads her to be incapacitous all the time.

 

 

 

  • Dr Barker states that PB is heavily influenced by her husband. When not with TB she has capacity (in his original report he wrote “has considerable capacity”) but may be incapacitous when with him. He does not know to what extent influence may be taken into account in deciding that she is incapacitous.

 

 

 

  • In his report and evidence he suggested that PB may simply be making a decision based on her commitment to marriage over her own wellbeing which is unwise but which is not caused by her mental impairment. “If she has preferred to ally herself with her husband she may accept the level of squalor”. In cross–examination he said that in his view her decisions “are not solely driven by mental impairment” and “it is difficult to judge whether it is cognitive impairment, or other factors which lead her to make unwise, or incapacitous, decisions when with TB”.

 

 

 

  • He said that assessment of whether she was unable to use and weigh might be skewed if PB had chosen to withhold information. She might have different thought processes but was choosing not to disclose that to him. There is evidence that she understands the issue but she may not want to give evidence which may “damage her cause”. This may be a natural denial.

 

 

 

  • That is the best summary of Dr Barker’s views which I can provide. His views were in fact set out in a number of different formulations. Mr Reeder has set them out in his closing document. I need not review that in detail. Dr Barkers’ final position in evidence was that the issue of PB’s capacity is finely balanced and should be decided by the court. He ‘leans’ to the conclusion that she has capacity to make decisions about residence, care and contact in optimal conditions He wavered somewhat as to whether he thought that PB lacked capacity when not with TB, and eventually concluded that he thought that she might do. “I agree that PB lacks capacity in certain situations, for example because of anxiety, mental disorder or influence. I don’t know if she has capacity in optimal circumstances, but I have not seen sufficient evidence that she lacks capacity then”. Ms Street says that the Official Solicitor “interprets” Dr Barker to have said that he thought that the presumption of capacity had not been rebutted.

 

 

 

  • Dr Khalifa’s consistent position in oral evidence was that PB’s mental illness, anxiety and influence from TB all contribute to her inability to weigh information. She lacks capacity at all times, sometimes at a greater level that at others.

 

 

 

  • Dr Barker had drafted the joint statement after their joint meeting. Dr Khalifa told me, and I accept, that he sent it to her and she signed it without further discussion. They recorded agreement that capacity was “finely balanced”. Dr Khalifa told me that she had misunderstood. She did not consider capacity to be finely balanced. She regarded PB and always has as clearly lacking capacity. Furthermore, although they agreed that PB had “considerable capacity” when not subject to TB’s direct influence (adopting Dr Barker’s phrase, by which he seems to have meant something different) both in her report and the joint statement, she did not mean that PB ever had capacity. She “would not separate influence and major psychiatric disorder.” In any event TB’s influence is pervasive. Whenever PB has to consider decisions about living with him or spending time with him she either cannot recall or use and weight the information or is paralysed by anxiety, or both.

 

 

 

  • The joint statement does not clearly address the capacity issue and Dr Khalifa’s clear view only emerged at court. Dr Khalifa told me also that she had wanted to “harmonise” their views. I accept this. Dr Barker’s view was never clearly enough expressed and it seems to me that she thought that this was the best they could do since there was no prospect of getting any clearer formulation. She was wrong to sign up to an accord when in fact there was none. But I am sure she did not appreciate that this would prolong the debate and the enquiry.

 

 

 

  • Both agree that “whether or not the Court finds that she lacks capacity, she is a vulnerable adult and as such requires protection in the context of her relationship with TB.”

 

 

[I don't personally care much for the last sentence - if PB has capacity, then she has the same autonomy as any of us to make choices and decisions without the State interfering.  I come across this patrician attitude quite a lot, and I'm afraid it is something that makes me bristle. It isn't the job of the State to make decisions for people who are capable of doing that themselves]

 

There are some problems in this – it appears that Dr Barker felt that PB had capacity to make decisions about where she wanted to live ‘in optimal conditions’ and that PB had ‘considerable capacity’ when not subject to TB’s influence.

 

We’ve all come across people who act foolishly in relation to a love affair  (this might be described as the ‘Gail Tilsley effect’ – a person who is normally sensible, cautious and fairly dull, has all of their common sense go out of the window when their head is turned by love.  Is that a lack of capacity?  Sometimes when this is happening to you, you might describe it as not being able to think straight, you might come out of it saying ‘what was I thinking?’  ‘what possessed me to do that?’  – but is it a lack of capacity?

 

The Judge was asked to prefer the evidence of Dr Barker to Dr Khalifa (who had put things on a much more medical footing regarding decision making, as opposed to Dr Barker, who felt that PB’s judgment was clouded when it came to making decisions about her relationship with TB – which would NOT be a lack of capacity for the purposes of the Act). The Judge instead preferred the evidence of Dr Khalifa.

 

 

  • Ms Street and Mr Reeder asked me to prefer the opinion of Dr Barker to Dr Khalifa. I decline to do so.

 

 

i) I do not agree that Dr Khalifa was approaching the task of assessment from a Mental Health Act “diagnostic” standpoint or safeguarding perspective.

ii) Dr Barker’s evidence was speculative, approached more as a philosophical or academic debate than an opinion. As I have commented above he was reluctant himself to factor a consistent body of information from reliable sources as to PB’s thought processes. He focused on his own assessment rather than looking at the history, in particular the stark picture presented by Ms Thompson’s evidence.

iii) His emphasis on PB’s sophisticated, dextrous use of language, which was not in dispute, caused him to lose focus on the issue of using and weighing the information and the inability to take any decision at all: getting “stuck”, “going along with it”, “acquiescent” (a word which struck him by its “sophistication”).

iv) He had no evidence that PB was deliberately concealing information from him, or her motivation if she was. What she said to him was consistent with “sliding away” from the issues.

v) Dr Barker took the individual elements but did not put them together. He did not address the matters in issue. As I have said, the question was not the wish to be with her husband. The issue was not whether she was wise or unwise to regard their trips together as “romantic” or to regard the bonds of marriage as sacred; but whether she is able to decide where and with whom she is to live and how her care is to be managed.

vi) Dr Khalifa broke down the elements then approached capacity on a holistic basis. I found her oral evidence clear and focussed, well argued, cogent and compelling.

vii) I am satisfied that PB suffers from impairment/disturbance which directly results from the psychiatric disorders identified by Dr Khalifa.

viii) I do not accept Dr Barker’s opinion that PB is only under TB’s influence when she is actually with him. I agree with Dr Khalifa that TB’s influence remains effective even when not she is not with him. This is apparent from the conversations recorded above with Ms Nicholas, Ms Masters, and Dr Khalifa.

ix) And finally key issues on which he focussed are, as he accepted, matters of law or of judgment for the court.

 

Because this issue arose as to whether PB’s mental condition and disorder of the mind was causing her lack of capacity, or whether it was a contributing factor together with her feelings towards her husband and her inability to process logical decisions when considering him, there was a legal issue to be resolved

 

 

  • capacity in this context must mean with regard to the “matter in issue”. Furthermore, “for the Court to have jurisdiction to make a best interests determination, the statute requires there to be a clear causative nexus between mental impairment and any lack of capacity that may be found to exist (s 2(1)).” The key words “because of” should not be replaced by “referable to” or “significantly relates to”: PC v City of York Council [2013] EWCA Civ 478.

 

 

 

  • Ms Street submits that “because of” in Section 2 MCA 2005 means “is the sole cause of”. Mr Reeder submits that it means “is the effective cause of“. Ms Burnham suggests that it means “is an effective cause of” and submits that there is no material distinction between “the sole cause” and “the effective cause“.

 

 

 

  • Ms Burnham refers by way of analogy to the Equality Act 2010, where the words “because of” have been construed as meaning “a substantial reason”: it need not be the main reason so long as it “an effective cause”. She cites pre- EA 2010 authority: Owen v Briggs and James, 1982 ICR 618 (CA) and O’Neill v Governors of St Thomas More Roman Catholic Voluntary Aided Upper School [1997] 1CR 33. I note other analogous areas of statutory interpretation where a purposive construction has been adopted. Under s 423 Insolvency Act 1996, in order to set aside an impugned transaction its “purpose” must have been to defraud creditors. Purpose does not mean sole purpose: substantial purpose or intention is sufficient (Inland Revenue Commissioners v Hashmi) [2000] 2 BCLC 489, 504, [2000] BPIR 974. Under s 37 Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 there is power to set aside a transaction made with the intention to defeat a claim for a financial remedy. The intention to defeat the claim does not have to be the dominant motive in the transaction; if it is a subsidiary (but material) motive then that will suffice: Kemmis v Kemmis (Welland and Others Intervening), Lazard Brothers and Co (Jersey) Ltd v Norah Holdings Ltd and Others [1988] 1 WLR 1307, [1988] 2 FLR 223.

 

 

 

  • I agree with Ms Burnham that where there are several causes it is logically impossible for one of them to be “the effective cause”. I agree that to hold otherwise would lead to an absurd conclusion because even if impairment or disturbance were the most important factor, wherever there were other factors (however little part they might play) the s 2 MCA 2005 test would not apply.

 

 

 

  • There is nothing Convention incompatible in the concept that multiple factors may affect a decision. Otherwise a person with impaired capacity whose disturbance/impairment of mind operates to disable her from weighing and using information would not fall within the protection of the Act.

 

 

 

  • It seems to me that the true question is whether the impairment/disturbance of mind is an effective, material or operative cause. Does it cause the incapacity, even if other factors come into play? This is a purposive construction.

 

 

 

  • The issue is not, as Mr Reeder puts it, whether “the effect of PB’s views about her marriage is itself an impairment or disturbance or results from an impairment or disturbance”.

 

 

 

  • The question is whether PB lacks capacity in respect of the matter in issue by reason of a disturbance or impairment in the mind or brain so that she cannot use and weigh her choices (which may include choices impelled to whatever extent by such beliefs of feelings) so that he/she is unable to understand, retain, or use and weigh them.

 

 

 

  • Ms Street and Mr Reeder also submit that Dr Khalifa approached the test the wrong way round. They submit that the Code of Practice stipulates that the first step is to decide whether there is a disturbance of mind, and the second to decide on capacity whereas McFarlane LJ in PC v City of York [2013] EWCA Civ 478 stated that this should be considered in reverse order. In my view MacFarlane LJ did not purport to lay down a different test: nor did he take the questions in the reverse order, but simply stressed that there must be a causative nexus between the impairment and the incapacity.

 

 

 

  • I do not consider that it matters what order the expert addressed the issues so long as she or he observes the causative nexus. Dr Khalifa identified the impairment or disturbance, which she described compellingly and in detail, and then clearly advised that this caused the inability to use and weigh.

 

 

 

  • When Dr Khalifa was asked whether PB’s inability to use and weigh the information was “due to” her constantly and clearly communicated views about marriage and her role within that marriage as TB’s wife, Dr Khalifa rightly rejected this as the relevant question and repeated her opinion as to PB’s condition and its effect on the ability to use and weigh. I do not agree that this was “ducking the question”. Dr Khalifa said and repeated that it is difficult to separate PB’s impairment or disturbance of functioning of mind and brain from the question of influence.

 

 

 

  • I regard PB’s condition as the cause of her inability to use and weigh. Her inability to challenge TB may at one time have stemmed from a belief in the ties of marriage: I do not know. But now she is unable to use and weigh the information because of the compromise in her executive functioning and her anxiety.

 

 

and the Judge specifically looked at the issue of Overbearing of the Will

 

Influence/overbearing of the will

 

  • In R v Cooper [2009] UKHL 42, [2009] 1 WLR 1786 at [13] the Supreme Court noted that “The commission therefore recommended the functional approach: this asked whether, at the time the decision had to be made, the person could understand its nature and effects…”. However, the commission went on to accept that understanding might not be enough. There were cases where people could understand the nature and effects of the decision to be made but the effects of their mental disability prevented them from using that information in the decision-making process. The examples given were an anorexic who always decides not to eat or a person whose mental disability meant that he or she was “unable to exert their will against some stronger person who wishes to influence their decisions or against some force majeure of circumstances”: para 3.17. (underlining added for emphasis).

 

 

 

  • I do not accept as Ms Street submits that the underlined passage supports the proposition that the impairment or disturbance must be the sole cause of the inability to make a decision. It does support Ms Burnham’s submission that inability to exert the will against influence because of the impairment or disturbance is relevant.

 

 

 

  • I do not accept that pre MCA authority is irrelevant. It has been held that the jurisdiction of the High Court is not usurped where capacity has been lost because of the influence of another or the impact of external circumstances, and only regained because the court has regulated exposure to such influences which if subsequently reasserted will cause capacity to be lost once more Re G (an adult) (Mental capacity: Court’s Jurisdiction) [2004] EWHC 222 (Fam) and a Local Authority v SA and others.

 

 

 

  • In Re A (Capacity: Refusal of Contraception) [2011] Fam 61 at [73] Bodey J specifically found that Mrs A’s inability to use and weigh was the consequence of the influence of a husband to whom she was fiercely loyal. Ms Street says that this decision is not relevant in the instant case since the words “because of” were not the subject of argument. In my view the issue of influence is a general one, and not limited to the causal nexus between impairment or disturbance of functioning of mind and brain and inability to make a decision. In that case the legal focus was the capacity to use and weigh information in order to make the decision. I do not accept that Bodey J was approaching the case on the wrong “inherent jurisdiction” test.

 

 

 

  • In IM v LM the Court of Appeal recorded Peter Jackson J’s observation that the threshold for those who wish to establish that a person cannot make a decision because they are overborne by influences from others must be a high one “in relation to an act which is so very hard to rationalise.” The Court did not further comment on this formulation. I assume that they approved it. There is no suggestion that influence is not a relevant consideration. They specifically approved Bodey J in Re A (Refusal of Contraception).

 

 

 

  • As I have commented the type of decision to be made in this case is quite different from a decision to engage in sexual relations. It requires consideration of quite complicated choices and an assessment of past and future. In any event the influence/pressure of TB is common ground and is overwhelmingly demonstrated.

 

 

 

  • PB is under TB’s influence whether he is physically present or not. Every time she is asked to make a decision about him his influence, in conjunction with her psychiatric condition, cognitive deficits and anxiety, prevents her from using and weighing the information.

 

 

 

  • But in any event by reason of her condition alone, even without the influence of TB, in my view PB lacks capacity to use and weigh. The history over March and April 2013 in particular demonstrates that PB was not able in reality to make any decision at all which related to TB, or to her care needs. And what she has said during the course of these proceedings demonstrates the same process. Her impairment /disturbance is the effective cause, the primary cause of her inability to make a decision.

 

 

 

  • I have had the advantage, which the experts have not, of surveying all the material in this case and in particular the oral evidence of Ms Thompson. PB, notwithstanding her high intellectual capacity and verbal dexterity, and in spite of her superficial and partial acknowledgement of the risks, is simply unable to factor into her thought processes (i.e. use and weigh) the realities of the harm that she will suffer if she resumes living with TB or has uncontrolled contact with him. And perhaps, even more importantly, she is unable to weigh up the risks to her of being in an unsupported environment, with or without him, without a package of care. This is not to be paternalistic, or to fail to allow her to experience an acceptable degree of risk. It is not a question of allowing her “to make the same mistakes as all other human beings are at liberty to make and not infrequently do.”

 

The Judge decided that PB did lack capacity for the purposes of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and made the declarations sought by Norfolk, which were in effect that PB could be detained in a home against her wishes and that this deprivation of liberty was authorised.

 

An important point to arise was that Parker J had indicated that IF she had decided that PB DID have capacity, she would still have authorised the same actions (keeping PB in a home and apart from her husband) under the inherent jurisdiction. This is a big deal, because if this became law, it would mean that Local Authorities could ask Courts to make decision about ‘vulnerable’ adults who had capacity to make their own decisions. And as we keep hearing ‘the inherent jurisdiction theoretically has no limits”.  I believe that the Official Solicitor intended to appeal on this point of law, and I wish them all the luck in the world – this would be a major development in the law and a major erosion of the principle that people have autonomy to make bad decisions as long as they have capacity.  It would be a bad day for personal liberties in this country if the inherent jurisdiction were to be extended in this way   (on the flip-side, if you believe that the State is there to protect vulnerable people from making mistakes, then it would be a good day. We can agree to disagree on that)

 

 

 

  • I expressed the view at the conclusion of the hearing that if I did not find that PB lacks capacity I would have made an order in the same terms pursuant to the inherent jurisdiction. This is not strictly necessary, but I understand that the Official Solicitor will consider whether to appeal the decision following receipt of the judgment.

 

 

 

  • Miss Street submits that if PB has capacity that the court cannot impose a residence regime. She submits that the authorities only sanction, in essence, an adjunctive, supportive regime to restrain and protect from others.

 

 

 

  • All accept that the inherent jurisdiction can be invoked where capacity is vitiated by constraint, coercion, undue influence and other disabling circumstances which prevent her from forming and expressing a real and genuine consent: see Munby J (as he then was) in Re SA [2006] EWHC 2942 (a forced marriage case). I accept that this can result from improper influence of another person (indeed this is what is asserted here). Vulnerability, I accept, is a description rather than a precise legal formulation.

 

 

 

  • The reported cases are all fact specific. But I do not read them restrictively, as I am urged. In Re G (an adult) (Mental Capacity: Court’s Jurisdiction) [2004] All ER (d) 33 (Oct) Bennett J determined the place of residence of a vulnerable adult who had regained capacity. He held that he could not ignore the consequences if the court withdrew its protection. If the declarations were in her best interests, the court was not depriving G of her right to make decisions but ensuring that her stable and improved mental health was maintained.

 

 

 

  • Macur J, as she then was, in LBL and (1) RYJ and (2) VJ stated that the court has the ability via the inherent jurisdiction “to facilitate the process of unencumbered decision making by those they have determined free of external pressure or physical restraint in making those decisions”. I do not see that formulation as restricting the exercise of the inherent jurisdiction to prevent placement in a care home, subject to deprivation of liberty issues. In Re L (Vulnerable Adults with Capacity: Court’s Jurisdiction) No 2 [2012] WLR 1439, the Court of Appeal confirmed the inherent jurisdiction as a safety net to protect vulnerable adults subject to coercion or undue influence. The inherent jurisdiction exists to protect, liberate and enhance personal autonomy, but any orders must be both necessary and proportionate. Miss Burnham submits that what is proposed is protective and necessary and proportionate and is not a coercive restricting regime. I am inclined to the view that a regime could be imposed on PB if that is the only way in which her interests can be safeguarded. To be maintained in optimum health, safe, warm, free from physical indignity and cared for is in itself an enhancement of autonomy. In Re L injunctive relief was granted against the parties’ adult son. That in itself was an interference with autonomy in one sense (freedom of association) and an enhancement of autonomy in another (protection against coercion).

 

 

 

  • I see no indication that the inherent jurisdiction is limited to injunctive relief. Each case depends on the degree of protection required and the risks involved. And the court must always consider Article 8 rights and best interests when making a substantive order.

 

 

 

  • Ms Street of course submits that any deprivation of liberty must be “in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law” and “lawful pursuant to Article 5 of the Convention”. She cites Lord Hope in R (Purdy) v DPP [2010] 1 AC 345: (i) there must be a legal basis in domestic jurisdiction (ii) The rule must be sufficiently accessible to the individual affected by the restriction and (iii) it must be sufficiently precise for the person to understand its scope and foresee the consequences of his actions so that he can regulate his conduct without breaking the law.

 

 

 

  • If I made such an order here a regime would be imposed by a court of law through a legal process of which notice had been given and it would be perfectly possible for a person of sufficient capacity to understand its effect. That fulfils the “Purdy” criteria.

 

 

 

  • However Ms Street also submits that there would be no or insufficient connection between the deprivation of liberty and “unsoundness of mind” within the meaning of Article 5. That would be the only basis upon which I could impose restraint.

 

 

 

  • A person who is incapacitous does not necessarily suffer from unsoundness of mind (see again for instance the anorexia cases). I note that deprivation of liberty is specifically authorised under the 2005 Act in cases of incapacity without reference to unsoundness of mind. It has never so far as I am aware been suggested that the DoLs provisions are in breach of Article 5.

 

 

 

  • “Unsoundness of mind” is not the same as “incapacity”. PB has a diagnosed psychiatric condition which compromises her decision making. If it is not established that she lacks capacity this would be on the narrowest interpretation of MCA 2005 (“because of”) and would not impinge upon her diagnosis or her vulnerability, which results from her psychiatric condition.

 

 

 

  • Ms Street concedes that TB’s influence would be highly relevant under the inherent jurisdiction. PB cannot litigate on her own behalf. The Official Solicitor would be entitled to make an application on her behalf for injunctive relief against TB in her best interests. I would be entitled to make an injunction of my own motion under the inherent jurisdiction preventing him from coming into contact with her, if the Official Solicitor declined to do make an application. If such an order were made she would have nowhere to go. In fact she cannot presently return to his flat in any event because of the landlord’s injunction against her.

 

 

 

  • In my view the inherent jurisdiction does extend to orders for residence at a particular place. If that constitutes a deprivation of liberty then in my view the court could authorise it pursuant to the inherent jurisdiction.

 

 

 

  • Assuming that it would not constitute an unlawful deprivation of liberty in my view I would be entitled to make an order for placement against her will pursuant to the inherent jurisdiction. There are serious risks to PB if she is not properly cared for or if she is not protected against TB. Both Dr Khalifa and Dr Barker recognise that reality.

 

 

 

 

 

Barbecue tongs and police being given power to force entry to a home

 

Another C-section Court of Protection case. You may have seen the Daily Telegraph piece already

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/10952683/Judge-allows-police-to-break-down-womans-door-for-enforced-caesarean.html

 

The Telegraph’s reporting is very faithful to the judgment here, and it is more of a factual report than a comment piece.  The judgment itself is the Mental Health Trust and DD 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/11.html

 

This is the sixth pregnancy that DD has had. She has mild to borderline learning disability (Full scale IQ of between 67 and 75 – if you read cognitive assessments often, that’s in the bottom 1% of the general population, but in the area where USUALLY , and I stress USUALLY the person has the capacity to make decisions for themselves and conduct litigation), but this was compounded by her autistic spectrum disorder, and it was the combination of the two difficulties that led the Court to conclude that she lacked capacity for the purposes of the Mental Health Act.

 

None of the previous five children live with DD or her partner, BC  – her partner is said to have significant learning difficulties and a lower IQ than DD. The obvious compelling fact from the five previous children is this, in relation to child 3

 

In June 2010, on a home visit, DD was found cradling a baby born in her home; the baby was believed to be 5-10 days old. Child 3 (male) was at that point seriously dehydrated and undernourished (it appears that the parents had sought to feed him with cup-a-soup), with lesions on his head believed to be caused by Bar-B-Q tongs which (from information provided by DD and BC at the time) BC had used to assist in the delivery (DD denies this)

 

Added to that is that during the pregnancy of the fourth child, mother suffered an embolism, leading to increased health risks in pregnancy and labour for future children

 

  • On a routine visit to DD’s and BC’s home in July 2011, DD was observed to be very unwell; she was fitting, and unconscious. It later transpired that she had suffered an intracerebral embolism causing fitting (status epilepticus), probably brought about by the pregnancy. BC was unable to say for how long DD had been in this dire state. DD was admitted to hospital as an emergency; her fitting could not be controlled, and she was therefore given general anaesthetic and ventilated on the intensive care unit. Monitoring of the unborn baby revealed evidence of foetal bradycardia (slowing of the heart and consequent distress). In order to treat the patient (DD) and relieve the foetal distress, an emergency caesarean section was therefore performed. DD suffered significant post-partum haemorrhage, and required a 2 unit blood transfusion. Child 4 (female) was born very prematurely at 29 weeks.

 

 

 

  • Following the birth, neither parent sought to see Child 4, nor did they engage with child care proceedings. Child 4 was made the subject of a care and placement order and placed for adoption.

 

 

 

  • Significantly, DD resisted prophylactic injections to prevent further blood clots. The occurrence of the embolism means that any future pregnancy carries an increased risk of stroke and of haemorrhaging

 

 

And then child 5

 

 

  • Child 5: Later in 2012, DD became pregnant again. The pregnancy was once again concealed from the professional agencies (including social workers from the adult and child services) which were endeavouring to work with the parents. The parents withdrew from engagement with professionals, and on occasions refused entry to their home. In mid-July, an unannounced visit by child care social workers was made to the home; BC declined their request to enter. Following protracted negotiations (involving discussion of police attendance to obtain access to DD), BC relented. On entering the property, DD was seen attempting to breast feed a baby (Child 5: female), swaddled in a dirty pillow case soiled with blood. The home was dirty; there was no sign of baby clothes, blankets, bottles, nappies or anything suggesting preparation for a child. DD was evasive when asked where the afterbirth was; there was concern that it may not have been delivered. DD looked unwell. BC handed Child 5 to the social workers, and gave permission to have her examined in hospital.

 

One can understand why any professional involved with DD would be concerned about her pregnancy and anxious to ensure that the baby is not born at home without medical supervision. It appears that DD and BC withdrew from medical and other services during this pregnancy

 

 

  • Between late February and early April, twenty-five social work visits were made to DD and BC’s home. Even allowing for the fact that on occasion DD will undoubtedly have been out, the social workers were not able to obtain access on even a single occasion. Occasionally, DD and BC have been sighted at the windows within the property, but have not responded to knocking at their front door. On one occasion, BC responded to the knocking by telling the visitors (through the locked door) that DD was “not pregnant“; DD was heard shouting in the background.

 

 

 

  • Given the level of concern, and belief in the advancing pregnancy, the Adult social services sought and obtained a warrant under section 135 Mental Health Act 1983 which authorised them to enter, with police presence and if need be by force, DD’s home, and, if thought appropriate, to remove her to a place of safety with a view to making an application in respect of her under Part II of the Mental Health Act 1983. Mr. D told me that there was reasonable cause to suspect that DD (a person believed to be suffering from mental disorder) was being kept otherwise than under proper control.

 

 

 

  • On 8 April 2014, the warrant was executed. On entering the flat that evening (17:00hs), there was an overwhelming smell of cats’ urine; the home was dirty and dingy. DD and BC were initially distressed, but (according to Mr. D and Mrs. C, who were both present) the situation was soon calmed, and DD was conveyed to a mental health unit for full mental and physical assessment. DD co-operated with a physical examination, an ultrasound scan, and blood sampling.

 

 

 

  • Following this assessment, fifteen further attempts were made to see DD at home. On none of those visits did DD or BC answer the door. DD did not attend pre-booked ante-natal appointments on 23 April, or on 21 May 2014; transport had been offered and provided. The letter reminding her of the ante-natal appointment was returned with a message on the envelope ‘return to sender, moved away‘.

 

 

 

  • To add context to this level of ante-natal intervention, NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) Guidelines recommend nine appointments for a high-risk pregnancy (which this is – see §97(vii) below); by this time, DD had had one appointment, and only (as is apparent from the history above) when she had been removed from her home following court order.

 

 

 

The Trust (ie the hospital and doctors at the hospital) made an application to the Court of Protection for a number of declarations about DD

 

i) DD lacks capacity to litigate in respect of the issues below;

ii) DD lacks capacity to make decisions in respect of whether to undergo a caesarean section and to make decisions generally about her care and treatment in connection with her impending labour, including the place and mode of delivery of her unborn child;

iii) It is in DD’s best interest to undergo a planned caesarean section in hospital with all necessary ancillary treatment;

iv) DD lacks capacity to consent to be subject of an assessment of her capacity to make decisions in relation to contraception (by way of sections 48 or 15 Mental Capacity Act 2005);

v) It is in DD’s best interest to be subject of a one day assessment of her capacity to make decisions about contraception;

vi) The Applicants may take such necessary and proportionate steps to give effect to the best interests declarations above to include, forced entry, restraint and sedation.

 

The Court of Protection were not dealing with, were not asked to deal with, and have no powers to deal with, what would happen to DD’s baby once it was born. The Judge,  Cobb J, simply says this

I exhort the Council to make sure that any application for orders fully engages DD, so that she can be represented by her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor. It is plainly important, in DD’s best interests, that plans for the baby are formulated and presented to her in a way which engages her to the fullest extent.

 

 

The Court assessed DD’s capacity.  (I will set out now, because it is an issue that continues to trouble some practitioners in this field and also campaigners, that although DD was represented through the Official Solicitor, the Official Solicitor had not met with her or taken her views on the issues and did not in effect mount a challenge or defence to those declarations. The Official Solicitor’s role is to make representations to the Court about what they consider to be in DD’s best interests – in some cases that means agreeing or not opposing the declarations sought, in some cases it means a very robust opposition to the declarations sought, but there is no general principle that the Official Solicitor ought to argue against state intervention and FOR autonomy for people like DD)

 

The peculiar issue in relation to capacity was that DD in five sets of care proceedings had been adjudged to have capacity to litigate, and had NOT been represented through the Official Solicitor. That would be fairly unusual in a case where the Court was contemplating surgery against the person’s will

 

  • I am satisfied that “all practicable steps” (section 1(3) MCA 2005) have been taken to help DD to make a decision as to litigation, and mode of delivery, but that such steps have been unsuccessful – not just because of the low level of co-operation, but because she has displayed such rigid and unshakeable thinking (‘mind-blindedness’) about the information provided.

 

 

 

  • Her decision-making is undoubtedly “unwise“, but it is not, in my judgment, just “unwise“; it lacks the essential characteristic of discrimination which only comes when the relevant information is evaluated, and weighed. I am satisfied that in relation to each of the matters under consideration her impairment of mind (essentially attributable to her autistic spectrum disorder, overlaid with her learning disability) prevents her from weighing the information relevant to each decision. While anxious that in the past DD has ostensibly participated (albeit in a limited way) in public law proceedings without any finding of the court as to her capacity to do so (which causes me to reflect yet more carefully on the issue under consideration now) I must consider the issue with regard to this particular piece of litigation (Sheffield Crown Court v E & S – supra).

 

 

 

  • Moreover, on the evidence laid before me, there is reason to believe (section 48) that she lacks capacity in relation to whether to participate in an assessment of her capacity to decide on future contraception.

 

 

 

  • In these conclusions, I am fortified by the fact that the Official Solicitor, on DD’s behalf, does not seek to persuade me otherwise.

 

 

 

  • These conclusions can be drawn as declarations reached pursuant to section 15 Mental Capacity Act 2005, save for the conclusion in relation to capacity to consent to an assessment of decision-making relevant to future contraception, which will be drawn as a declaration under section 48 MCA 2005

 

 

 

The Court then went on to consider, what the best interests of DD required, given that she lacked capacity to make her own decision. The analysis that Cobb J undertakes of the various options for delivery of the child, the pros and cons of each and the balancing exercise is the best of these that I have seen, and I hope that this sort of root-and-branch analysis becomes more widely used in these cases. He reaches the conclusion that caesarean section is the best course of action, and makes the declarations that would allow the hospital to carry out that surgical procedure.

 

We then move to the headline item – in all of the other C-section Court of Protection cases the expectant mother has been in hospital, here she is at home. How is she to be conveyed to hospital?

 

Achieving the admission to hospital: Use of reasonable force & deprivation of liberty

 

  • I am conscious that steps may need to be taken to give effect to the decision which I make, if compelled attendance at hospital is required (for caesarean or induced vaginal delivery) in the face of DD’s objection. The extent of reasonable force, compulsion and/or deprivation of liberty which may become necessary can only be judged in each individual case and by the health professionals.

 

 

 

  • On two recent occasions forcible entry has had to be made to DD’s home in order to achieve some form of assessment: once with the authorisation of the lay justices (section 135 MHA 1983: 8 April 2014) and once pursuant to an order of Pauffley J (section 48 MCA 2005: 19 June 2014).

 

 

 

  • Any physical restraint or deprivation of liberty is a significant interference with DD’s rights under Articles 5 and Article 8 of the ECHR and, in my judgment, as such should only be carried out:

 

 

i) by professionals who have received training in the relevant techniques and who have reviewed the individual plan for DD;

ii) as a last resort and where less restrictive alternatives, such as verbal de-escalation and distraction techniques, have failed and only when it is necessary to do so;

iii) in the least restrictive manner, proportionate to achieving the aim, for the shortest period possible;

iv) in accordance with any agreed Care Plans, Risk Assessments and Court Orders;

 

  • On each previous occasion, after DD’s (and BC’s) understandable initial distress at the intrusion, DD has been calm and co-operative; BC less so. The presence of the police has not aggravated the situation; on the contrary, I was advised by Mr. D that DD sees the police as neutral and therefore helpful in maintaining peace. DD does not see the police as a risk; indeed, it was felt, the presence of police (in fact, uniformed police underline for the concrete thinker the visual confirmation of authority) creates a brake on her anxiety, anger, frustration and fear. The police add a ‘message’ to DD that the situation is ‘serious’ (according to Mr D) and has the effect of calming DD and BC.

 

 

 

  • In fulfilment of the plan as a whole, it is critical that the particular team of trained and briefed professionals is involved.

 

 

 

  • I recognise that sedation may be needed to ensure that DD does not cause herself harm at the time of the transfer to, and in-patient stay, in the hospital. General anaesthesia is likely to be necessary in my judgment to facilitate the caesarean section given the risks to herself if she were to interfere with the surgical procedure, or choose to be non-compliant with localised anaesthetic.

 

 

 

Finally, the Trust were proposing that DD be told of the general plan – that she would be taken to hospital and undergo a C-section, but not detail as to the date. The Judge considered the pros and cons of this here

 

 

  • The Applicants propose that neither DD nor BC should be advised of the date planned for the caesarean procedure, but should be provided with partial information: they are aware of this hearing, and it is proposed that they should be informed of the Applicants’ plan to arrange a caesarean section for her.

 

 

 

  • It should be noted that neither DD nor BC were advised in advance of the date of the localisation scan which took place two weeks ago.

 

 

 

  • There are plainly risks associated with providing DD and BC with full information (i.e. about the planned date), and, in the alternative, providing them with partial information. The professionals consider that the risks associated with providing them with full information are greater given DD’s likely raised stress and anxiety levels as the date approaches; this may have a serious impact on her mental health. This concern is underlined by the fact that she was adamant that she should not have her planned caesarean at the time of the birth of Child 2 until the exact due date.

 

 

 

  • There is a further risk that in advising DD and BC of the date of the caesarean, that they may seek to leave their home, and disappear. This in itself would create risks to DD, in that:

 

 

i) There is no guarantee that the specialist team local to her current home which has been identified to look after DD on the appointed date could be assembled on short notice, once DD and BC have been located;

ii) Health professionals in any new area would be unfamiliar with her situation, and less well equipped to deal with her, and her particular needs;

iii) Managing a safe transition from the community to hospital may be less easy or (if she is located in a public place) dignified.

iv) If she attempts a vaginal delivery at home (particularly any temporary home which is unfamiliar), she may be putting herself at additional risk.

 

  • If DD and BC are given partial information (omitting specific dates) the levels of anxiety are likely to be lessened and DD may have difficulty relating the information to herself given her autism spectrum disorder. This condition may make it difficult for DD to see how the information relates to her until concrete actions take place. Recent experience (8 April and 19 June) has demonstrated that while DD has been initially distressed, this reduces quite quickly and effectively using skilled de-escalation techniques.

 

 

 

  • I acknowledge that giving full information to DD and BC about the plans for the delivery of the baby would most fully observe their Article 8 and Article 6 ECHR rights.

 

 

 

  • However, in my judgment the provision of only partial information (i.e. that the plan is for a caesarean section, but not giving her a date) is a justified interference with her potent Article 8 rights on the facts of this case, as necessary in the interests of her health and the health of her unborn child. Moreover, I am of course satisfied that her Article 6 rights have been observed by her full and effective representation – with the fullest opportunity for her engagement – in this hearing

 

 

 

These cases, as with so much that falls to be decided by High Court judges, are extraordinarily difficult, with there being no perfect answer. Nobody can, or indeed should, feel wholly comfortable with a deeply vulnerable woman being removed from her home by police officers and taken to a hospital to have surgery performed on her against her will; not least because one can see that her prospects of remaining together with the baby are not strong given the previous history. It makes me feel squeamish and uncomfortable. But when one contemplates the alternative – that two parents of such limited abilities try to deal with a home birth unsupervised and a labour that has medical complications, given that they previously tried to use barbecue tongs as forceps and injured child 3′s head during the process, that feels terrible too.  I don’t know how we get these decisions right and do them fairly, but it would be hard for anyone who takes the time to read Cobb J’s judgment carefully to think that he didn’t try his utmost to make this difficult decision fairly.

 

My one caveat is that I think there should be someone in Court who is advocating for non-intervention, and for DD’s autonomy. If the Court don’t consider that DD’s autonomy can outweigh her wider interests and safety, then so be it, but I would feel better if someone was really arguing ‘fearlessly and without favour’ for the State to leave this woman alone. That way, all of the competing options are rigorously argued out and tested. Otherwise, that is left entirely on the shoulders of a Judge – and we may not always be as fortunate to have a Judge like Cobb J, who has the mindset, the knowledge and in this case the time, to vigorously consider the counter arguments that are not being made by the advocates.

Extinction bursts

 

 
Northamptonshire NHS Trust v Another 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/2.html

This is a sad Court of Protection case, involving a young man named ML. ML had a variety of different needs :- severe learning disability, developmental disorder, autism, epilepsy and diabetes. He has very limited conventional skills of communication or social interaction.

As a result of this, his family reached the point where they needed some help. Three times per week he attends an Autistic Day Centre from 10.00am to 3.00pm, but otherwise lives with his family full-time.

The Trust made an application to the Court of Protection seeking a declaration that it would be in ML’s best interests to reside at Bestwood Hospital and get treatment there until he is in a position to return home.

All parties were agreed that this would be a deprivation of liberty (particularly following the Supreme Court’s decision in Cheshire) , and thus something that would need to be specifically authorised.
5. Behind these deceptively simple draft declarations is a history of professional and family conflict which has frequently been bitter and occasionally rancorous (amongst the professionals). It is a case which has engendered many high emotions in people who feel strongly about the important nature of the work they are involved in and who are very highly motivated to achieve the best outcomes for ML. Some, though certainly not all, witnesses have overstated their cases, been selective in their use of material, emotive in their use of language, disrespectful to those who hold contrary views. In consequence, despite their laudable objectives, they have made it difficult for me, at times, to get a clear picture of how ML functions and how his needs might best be met. If I accept the evidence of Susan Freeman, Nurse Consultant, ML is one of the most dangerous patients she has encountered still living within the community. She had, she told me, “only experienced one other person with more aggressive behaviour impact on others to the severity that ML’s does” and this was in the context of 30 Years of nursing people “whose behaviour challenges services” as she puts it. In her statement of the 31st January 2014 Ms. Freeman observed “I am a very experienced learning disability nurse. In all the years that I have been practicing ML is one of the most complex and challenging patients that I have been involved with, the range of his needs is quite vast”. Ms Freeman described ML as showing high levels of aggression “impacting on every area of his life and inhibiting appropriate health care intervention”. She believed his abilities were diminishing in an isolated routine. She said “If ML is not transferred out of his current environment and routines his world is going to continue to decrease”. ML’s diet said Ms Freeman was entirely unsatisfactory. By way of example she said ML ate only jam sandwiches and that little attempt was made to vary the diet. Certainly jam sandwiches, as Mr Weston, later confirmed were all ML ever ate at the Day Centre. I have heard in evidence that this resistance to new experiences, taste or routines is a feature of his autism, not uncommon at this severe end of the spectrum. Ms Freeman was uncompromising in her professional criticism of the National Autistic Society Day Centre. Their approach to ML’s care was she said “fundamentally flawed” it was “managing him at a distance” it involved withdrawing from him to avoid outbursts, it left him isolated and under stimulated and it served to reinforce his reliance on aggression.
6. In respect of the parents Ms Freeman said that they believe ML is simply unable to make progress or develop new skills. They are, she considered, over reliant on medication and believe its restorative powers will ultimately manage ML’s aggressive behaviours.
7. There was, however, a radically different picture of ML presented by other witnesses namely the parents, Ian Weston (the support worker at the NAS Day Centre) and Ms Heather Eyers.
8. It was not possible for the mother (EL) to come to London, it would have required an intolerable and unsustainable interruption to ML’s routine. I took her evidence by telephone link so all could hear it. She told me that she had made progress with ML’s diet, that he was now eating a broader range of foods: ‘pasties’, ‘crisps’, ‘sausages’ she said, by way of example, not particularly nutritious but an important improvement . She and her husband had attributed the peak in ML’s violent behaviour at the end of 2012 and early 2013 as being a consequence of his distress during his term as an inpatient in the Vale Hospital, where they considered he had been too readily ‘secluded’ (locked in a partially padded room) and for extended periods of time (4 ½ hours on one occasion). He had since calmed down and become more manageable. They had experienced no difficulty in managing him at home for months. Both parents said he was happy at home, well known and protected in their local community. He enjoyed seeing his brother and enjoyed the Day Centre. They have a padded room at home and both BL and EL told me that ML goes willingly to it when required. They simply do not see the extent of aggression that is attributed to ML and believe that the documented case gives only a partial picture. “We do not keep records at home”, they say. Moreover, they assert, the case papers inevitably concentrate on problem episodes rather than the many times when ML is relaxed and content. In their carefully presented closing submissions they undertook an analysis of the advantages of their proposals. It purported to be a comparative analysis but in truth, it was, understandably, largely one sided. They wish the present arrangements to continue and submit
Home / NAS Day Centre
i) We accept that there are no community living placements currently suitable for ML but there is no immediate need for ML to be moved from his family home. We are very happy for him to remain living here with us. We have managed to look after ML for 25 years and see no reason why we cannot continue to do so for the future.
ii) We are able to provide physical and medical care for ML. He is not disadvantaged in any way by living at home. We believe that we have the best understanding of ML’s medical needs having had to deal with them over his life.
iii) We believe that ML has gained enormously from moving back into his family home. He is happy and enjoys his life. He has daily contact with the outside world. His life is full and he is happy and secure in his routines.
iv) We believe that the work we have been doing at home with ML and the plans given in the recent NAS (National Autistic Society) witness statement give a solid base for work to develop ML’s functional skills using methods that take his autistic limitations into account. We believe this is likely to result in slow but steady progress for ML.
v) ML is an integral part of a loving family. We have always accepted his challenging behaviour and dealt with it. We have come through the difficult times with him and never gave up on him. We strongly believe that ML enjoys his family life and would want it to continue if he were able to choose.

 

Mr Weston comes out of this case with a considerable amount of credit, and the Judge had asked specifically to hear from him.

9. Having heard in evidence that ML had a particularly good relationship with his care assistant Ian Weston, I asked if Mr Weston could attend court because I hoped to be able to reconcile these differing accounts of ML’s general behaviour. Mr Weston could not have been more positive: he told me that ML enjoys walks but had, for example, easily been distracted from his usual routine when routes were impassable due to recent flooding. That was a good indicator of some of the progress being made he thought. He saw his role as “giving him the enjoyment that he needs”. I am impressed by the extent to which Mr Weston knew how ML was able to enjoy himself: ‘his Ipad’; ‘YouTube’, especially ‘Winnie the Pooh’ videos which he regularly enjoyed. He particularly likes swimming and likes Mr Weston repeatedly jumping into the pool. He enjoys the sound of the splash.
10. Mr Weston described how he had developed a habit for deflecting repeat requests for him to jump in and to which ML had responded. ML had learnt to dry himself which had always been a problem in the past he said. He was very clear that ML was much happier. Mr Weston was a tall well built man, both his stature and his contagious enthusiasm undoubtedly gave him an advantage over some of his colleagues. This was recognised and he was more regularly selected by the Day Centre to assist ML. It was made clear to me that one or two of the more diminutive assistants were less comfortable.
11. ML, it was agreed, likes “strong confident men”. I formed the view that whilst that strength and confidence was important it was not necessarily physical strength that he responded to (though that undoubtedly helps). He appears to respond to those he trusts well. I have seen photographs of him with his mother which reveal a capacity to display affection that the reports and evidence did not fully reveal to me.
12. All this said I note that on one very unfortunate visit to the swimming pool ML lashed out against Mr Weston, causing him to fall to the ground and crack two ribs. Mr Weston had to take some time off work. It did not deter him though and his relationship with ML has continued to flourish. Mr Weston knew that ML’s parents want to keep him at home and attending the Day Care Centre. I am clear that he intended to support them in his evidence. However, his commitment to ML and I thought real affection for him also communicated a sense of his own evaluation of ML’s potential. He seemed to me to be enthusiastic, to go beyond ‘keeping him happy’ and to bring him on. Mr Weston had, in my judgement, a strong sense that ML had greater potential than was being realised. Both ML and the NAS Day Centre are very fortunate to have Mr Weston. It was very clear to me why ML would respond to such enthusiasm and energy.

 

 

 

As part of the analysis of what ML might need in the future, the Judge wanted and needed to know more about the current assistance he is receiving. That seemingly innocuous enquiry led to an exploration of a short period ML had had in hospital, the Vale Hospital.

Ms Eyers, from the National Autistic Society had prepared a report about what the Day Centre were doing with ML, and the Court quoted extensively from it

16. In her report to the Court dated 11th February 2014, Ms Eyers evaluates the rationale and the success of the program. I propose to set her analysis out in full in order properly to do justice to it and so that it can address the criticisms made of it:
“The rationale of our current approach to behaviour support is to ask staff to leave at set intervals, so that ML’s need for time alone is respected before he has to present with physical aggression, which automatically causes the staff to withdraw. This approach aims to weaken the relationship between the presentation of the behaviour of concern and the reinforcer. This is achieved because the reinforcer is delivered independently of the presentation of the behaviour of concern. At the same time staff are modelling a more socially acceptable way for ML to communicate that he would like to spend time alone (waving of the hand). The full rationale is outlined in exhibit HE3.
Since the introduction of the behaviour support programme the day service has seen a drop in the amount of incidents to a maximum of 5 in one month, from up to 12 previously; with no incidents that have caused harm to others in a 3 month period. Analysis of the incident reports also indicates that the length of time of incidents has decreased from a maximum of 5 hours per day to a maximum 3 minutes. The intensity of incidents has also seen a decrease, with 55% of incidents post intervention requiring minimal response from his support team and not interrupting his activity, compared with 21% prior to the intervention – Exhibit HE4.
I feel that the current approach to supporting ML is successful, although it is slow paced, and we have seen a decrease in both the frequency and intensity of behaviours of concern and an increase in the amount of time that staff are spending in the space that has been dedicated to ML. It must be acknowledged that ML only currently spends 15 hours per week at the day service. The aims of the Behaviour Support Programme are now to increase the amount of time that staff are actively engaged in meaningful activity with ML – Exhibit HE5
In terms of the NAS continuing to support ML it is my opinion that whilst his levels of anxiety and physical aggression remain at current frequency and intensity then ML is not posing a high risk to those supporting him, himself or others who use the service. I would be cautious about using any other approach at the day service than the current Behaviour Support Programme, which relies on Non-contingent reinforcement, in which staff give ML structured periods of time when they are not in his company, as well as teaching functionally equivalent skills for him to tell us that he wants us to leave (rather than use of physical aggression), as this is having the affect of decreasing the number of incidents that ML is having, however it is a slow process and would need ML to continue to have his own safe space at the centre and to be more tolerant of staff before we can begin to look at preference assessment to find other activities that interest him.
The use of ‘extinction theory’ would not be appropriate at the day service due to the high risk of an ‘extinction burst’ challenging behaviour, the result of which would be of too high risk in this setting.
The NAS are committed to providing a good support service to ML and I do feel that once we have worked on his ability to tolerate others we can introduce a range of techniques to develop his functional skills and this will include :
i) Implementation of the Picture Exchange System to support his communication skills;
ii) Intensive interaction sessions to support development of his social interaction skills;
iii) Completing Sensory assessment and developing sensory based activities that meet his processing needs, especially in relation to tactile stimulation, olfactory stimulation and proprioceptive stimulation.
iv) Preference assessment to discover activities that interest and motive ML.

 
17. The Strategy referred to as ‘extinction theory’ has been the subject of much controversy in this case
Extinction theory and extinction bursts are a new concept to me, so I am grateful that the Judge explained it. There was a considerable schism between professionals in the case as to whether extinction theory would eventually bear fruit for ML and it was worth persevering through a difficult period, or whether it was harmful and wrong for ML.

24. An Extinction Burst is defined as follows:
“Extinction…. involves eliminating the reinforcement contingency maintaining a response which can result in … a temporary increase in the frequency, intensity or duration of the target response, also called ‘Extinction Bursts’ ” (Cooper, Heron and Heward, 1987 in Leman and Iawatu 1955).
I hesitate to attempt to reduce this concept into lay terms because, as has been emphasised, to do so runs the risk of oversimplifying what can be a subtle and complex process. Nonetheless, with that caveat in mind, it implies that if ML is confronted with something he does not like (stimuli of any kind) his fight instinct is aroused. The essence of the technique is to not respond in spite of the aggression and to continue the stimulus. It seems inevitable that until ML realises that his aggression is not causing the removal of the stimulus his aggression will accelerate. Breaking through this cycle, as I understand it, is termed the “extinction burst”. As ML recognised, he and EL are simply not able to manage this strategy. The reality (as opposed to the theory) is very painful and distressing both emotionally and likely physically too. BL told me he was profoundly afraid for his son, frightened about the technique and about the consequences if as he puts it “it all goes wrong”.
Part of the reason that ML’s family were worried that it would all go wrong, and opposed to ML being placed in hospital was the awful experience of his previous hospitalisation at the Vale.

 

 

25. ML was admitted between March and August 2012 as his parents were struggling to manage him. He returned having been discharged under the Mental Health Act 1983, pursuant to the discretionary powers of the Mental Health Review Tribunal in August 2012. It seems clear that the approach of the The Vale had been challenging and, had broadly, pursued the ‘extinction burst’ strategy that I have referred to above. It was a very difficult period for ML and his family. It was his parents who ultimately applied for his discharge under the Mental Health Act, which was opposed by the Trust.
26. In his 1st report, dated 24th October 2012, Dr Carpenter reviewed this period of admission. He saw no evidence that during the 5 months in hospital ML had learnt new self care skills sufficient to change his care needs. He observes
“In hospital he appears to have been restrained at length and this often disturbed him later, it certainly seems to have encouraged him to use his teeth to get away from being held…
He was then moved to another room to be secluded. My assessment is that as he had by then been in a struggling restraint for a period of time he enters the seclusion room very aroused and angry and then kicks and headbangs in a way that he was not prone to do – to the point of knocking himself unconscious and giving himself black eyes”.
27. In Dr Carpenter’s assessment, based on his review of the notes, the lengths of seclusion needed for ML to calm down were 10 times longer than they had been at home. Dr Carpenter also added:
“It is a challenge to find things that he enjoys. I feel we need to brainstorm the sensory likes he has and activities suitable for his development level“.
28. I endorse his last observation and I would emphasise it because, in different ways, every witness indentified the importance of this. Had there been a more collaborative approach amongst the professionals I suspect that much of this work would already have been done.
29. Annexed to Dr Carpenter’s report is a schedule headed ‘Hospital Seclusion record extracts’. I have found that to be a very disturbing document indeed. BL was unrepresented at this hearing and so I, on his behalf put this document under considerable forensic scrutiny. It is intrinsic to BL’s case that ML’s past treatment at the Vale Hospital has a direct bearing on future treatment and the declarations sought to enable such treatment to be implemented. Analysing carefully the periods of ‘seclusion’ whilst at the Vale Hospital is therefore crucial to this forensic process. BL is not a lawyer, he is a father. Though very effective in other aspects of the presentation of the case, the material relating to seclusion was something he found difficult to organise and evaluate. In my judgment that period was so full of pain for him as a father he could barely face revisiting it. His distress was visible despite his determination to remain controlled.
30. The way in which and the extent to which vulnerable adults are ‘secluded’ or deprived of their liberty is one of the indexes by which we measure our maturity as a democratic society. The necessity and proportionality of restriction of an individual’s personal autonomy requires constant vigilance and effective independent review. Both the framework of the Mental Health Act 1983 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005 are rigorous in affording a regime of both protection and review. Public funding for family members in both systems is rarely available and so they regularly appear unrepresented. This inevitably imposes an even greater burden on the offices of the Official Solicitor to ensure that those who they represent are fully protected. The enquiry into the extent and safety of ML’s detention in the Vale Hospital here was Judge led. It ought not to have been necessary for it to be so. The facts ought to have triggered, at very least, forensic curiosity. The Official Solicitor has provided, valuable assistance on the legal issues the case raises but the welfare investigation was, in my judgement, not sufficiently searching.
31. On the 10th April 2012 ML was kept in seclusion for 5 hours. That was unusual, but the records show that he was regularly secluded between 1 hr and 1hr 30 minutes.
That, if you missed it, was the Judge opening up a six pack of Whup-Ass. He was very unhappy about what the Vale had done, very unhappy that these awful facts came to light as a result of judicial investigation rather than had been presented directly to him, and was very unhappy that the Official Solicitor hadn’t found this stuff out.
The thrust was that “extinction theory” had been used on ML, with a view to when he was exposed to something he didn’t like and became aggressive rather than stopping the exposure, professionals would continue it and ignore the aggression, under the expectation that EVENTUALLY ML would learn that aggressive behaviour does not end up getting his needs met and he would move away from it as a strategy or technique. In practice, what happened was that ML got so aggressive that he had to be secluded, on one occasion for 5 hours but very often for about an hour.

This is what the Judge had to say about seclusion
32. ‘Seclusion’ is defined in the Mental Health Act Code of Practice
“15.43 Seclusion is the supervised confinement of a patient in a room, which may be locked. Its sole aim is to contain severely disturbed behaviour which is likely to cause harm to others.
15.44 Alternative terminology such as “therapeutic isolation”, “single-person wards” and “enforced segregation” should not be used to deprive patients of the safeguards established for the use of seclusion. All episodes which meet the definition in the previous paragraph must be treated as seclusion, regardless of the terminology used.”
33. Further features of the codes need to be highlighted:
“15.45 Seclusion should be used only as a last resort and for the shortest possible time. Seclusion should not be used as a punishment or a threat, or because of a shortage of staff. It should not form part of a treatment programme. Seclusion should never be used solely as a means of managing self-harming behaviour. Where the patient poses a risk of self-harm as well as harm to others, seclusion should be used only when the professionals involved are satisfied that the need to protect other people outweighs any increased risk to the patient’s health or safety and that any such risk can be properly managed.
15.46 Seclusion of an informal patient should be taken as an indication of the need to consider formal detention.
15.47 Hospital policies should include clear written guidelines on the use of seclusion. Guidelines should:
• ensure the safety and wellbeing of the patient;
• ensure that the patient receives the care and support rendered necessary by their seclusion both during and after it has taken place;
• distinguish between seclusion and psychological behaviour therapy interventions (such as “time out”);
• specify a suitable environment that takes account of the patient’s dignity and physical wellbeing;
• set out the roles and responsibilities of staff; and
• set requirements for recording, monitoring and reviewing the use of seclusion and any follow-up action.
So, having already established that seclusion is a last resort, should only be used for the shortest possible time and should not be used as part of a treatment programme or to manage self-harming behaviour, it was already pretty plain that it ought not to have been used on ML in this way.

It gets worse

35. Susan Freeman drew the hospital’s attention to what she considered to be inadequate padding to the door of the seclusion room. She is very experienced, she is, as is already evident from this judgment, forthright in her manner of expression. I should have thought that anyone hearing her views on this particular issue would have responded immediately and with some alarm. Astonishingly, and I do not use that word lightly, what followed was an email exchange that challenged the necessity of the additional padding largely on the grounds of expense. On one occasion ML knocked himself unconscious and on another may have sustained two black eyes. I say ‘may’ here because there is a possibility that the black and swollen eyes were the consequence of rubbing eyes affected by hay fever. ML is very resistant to physical examination and the Doctor who saw him was unable to come to a conclusion. Ms Freeman preferred the more benign explanation but with respect to her the proper course was to have remained open minded.
36. The fact of injury coupled with the frequency and the duration of some of the periods of seclusion is profoundly disturbing. The tardiness in responding to Ms Freeman’s concerns, (the padding was eventually rectified) and the reasoning behind the delay is to, my mind, unjustifiable. ML’s safety and his dignity were avoidably compromised. At the end of the case I heard from Mr Richard Mc Kendrick , the Chief Operating Officer of the Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. He had, I think, been present throughout most if not all of the evidence in this case.
37. He told me from the witness box:
“Hearing the evidence I share the concern expressed. I am very disappointed at the quality of care ML received at the Vale Hospital. I find it unacceptable. On behalf of the Trust I apologise to the L family for making mistakes and getting it wrong. In my experience, listening to and reading the evidence we should have been more proactive from the first point of ML’s head banging to ensure the seclusion room was safe and properly padded…. The whole circumstances of ML’s admission falls far short of the standards our staff and services aim to provide. I can only say the staff acted with good intentions but made mistakes. I apologise unreservedly on behalf of the Trust.”
38. Mr McKendrick went on in his evidence to state “I will take on board the lessons of this hearing to see that this does not happen again.”
39. That fulsome apology was well judged and nothing less would have been appropriate. When I heard it I asked BL for a response. He told me that he was ‘astonished’. He accepted it with dignity, though he commented that it was too late to afford him any reassurance.

 

In case you missed that, the Vale hospital who were secluding this young man because their use of extinction theory wasn’t working, in breach of the code of practice, didn’t have a properly padded room, and despite warnings that this was dangerous AND the young person injuring himself, did not resolve it because of cost issues.
[The Court weren’t dealing with any compensation claim on behalf of ML, though it appears to me that a lot of the essential ingredients are provided here. That decision not to resolve the padding on cost issues might turn out to be a very false economy]

Looking then, at the family’s objections to ML going into hospital, the Judge said this

40. BL feels that if ML goes into care at Bestwood for the lengthy period (18 – 24 months) contemplated, it will, because of his Autism, weaken his relationship with his family, who he does not respond to well out of the context of the home environment. It is distinctly possible he will not want to see them in hospital. If his behaviour were to deteriorate, as it did following the Vale admission, he would potentially be entirely unmanageable in the community (as Ms Freeman already feels he is) and there would in effect be no way back. ML would have lost the delicate security of the present status quo and be consigned to permanent institutional care. For BL that heartbreaking prospect is simply too great a risk.
41. I hope I have done proper justice to BL’s primary arguments. It is not difficult to see how in the light of the painful experience that Mr McKendrick has now acknowledged BL should be so deeply resistant to the care course planned. No parent or compassionate individual could fail to have anything other than profound sympathy for him and his wife.
To be quite honest, I would have stopped there, invited the Trust to devise a care plan that would support this young man at home and in his Day Centre, and made no deprivation of liberty declarations. I really wish that the Court had.

42. My responsibility is to identify what is in ML’s best interest, mindful that the course proposed by the Applicants undoubtedly, as all agree, amounts to a deprivation of liberty. As the Supreme Court has recently restated P (by his litigation friend the Official Solicitor v Cheshire West and Chester Council and another; PQ (by their litigation friend, the Official Solicitor v Surrey County Council [2014] UKSC19, “human rights have a universal character”. In determining best interests, I must be careful here to focus on what is right for ML by independently and dispassionately evaluating his personal situation. BL’s perception of best interests is relevant only in so far as he is a crucial component of any plan and as such any plan which has his whole hearted support is more likely to succeed. But BL’s views have no further weight than that. (See subsection 4 (7) (b) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 which imposes an obligation to take into account, if it practicable and appropriate to consult them, the views of anyone engaged in caring for the person or interested in his welfare).
43. The forensic process in this court has not permitted any witness to seek refuge in any particular professional ideology. It has kept an intense focus on ML and what is right for him. In the end the picture that emerged is an amalgamation of the views, contributions and experiences of all the professionals, from the varying disciplines and, of course most importantly from the parents. As BL recognised there was ultimately a professional consensus, though not one to which he could subscribe.
44. The key milestones to my conclusions are as follows:
i) ML at 25 will at some point need to be afforded the opportunity of independent living, which will always require a support structure to underpin it. His parents will not be able to care for him for ever;
ii) It is important that any move is planned and not the result of crisis, either in ML’s behaviour or in his parents’ health or general situation;
iii) There is, when analysed, a consensus that ML has greater potential than his present situation is enabling him to realise;
iv) The objectives of any regime of care ought to aspire to the goal of achieving independent living.
v) That goal (iv) may not always mean that ML’s personal happiness is given priority; integral to improvement is challenge which by definition is not easy;
vi) ML has a strong relationship with his parents, sibling and other key figures in his life. This relationship with his loving and committed parents has given ML a template from which to forge other relationships, as has been seen at the NAS Day Centre. All agree that this capacity is a very encouraging prognostic indicator of ML’s capacity to develop strategies that will equip him better for independent living;
vii) It follows from (vi) above that in addressing the balance of risk in terms of likely outcome at the Bestwood Centre the preponderance of evidence is optimistic. This is of crucial importance when determining whether to retain the status quo or not;
viii) Bestwood is a quite extraordinary resource. It is regarded by all the experts as a centre of excellence. It is finely tailored to the needs of those in ML’s circumstances. BL makes a very telling acknowledgement that if it were convenient to their home, so that they could call in frequently, he would now be supportive of it;
ix) Bestwood is highly sought after by many patients, it is an expensive resource that rarely becomes available. It follows that if ML were moved in crisis it is highly unlikely to be available. Indeed this may be ML’s only chance to gain access to such provision;
x) Whilst the Vale Hospital was not best equipped to manage the ‘extinction burst’ approach, predicated on exposure to stimuli, Bestwood is streamlined to put it in place and fully equipped to do so. I am persuaded that such approach is the correct one for ML.

45. I am satisfied that it is in ML’s best interest to have this opportunity. There is no guarantee of success of course and I fully understand the parents anxiety. I have been struck by how similar their concerns are to the fears of every parent whose child leaves home on the first steps to independent living. I don’t intend in any way to trivialise the issues here by that observation nor to underestimate the impact of their bad experiences at the Vale Hospital. I say it because the sheer normality of their reaction signals to me that ML like any other young man is entitled to the opportunity to fulfil his potential, it is the opportunity and not the outcome that is his right. I would be failing to respect his personal integrity and autonomy if I did not afford him this chance. I hope BL and EL will embrace it.

 

[I don't think that the Judge got this wrong, in an analytical sense, but I wish from a human perspective, he had reached a different conclusion]
There followed a very technical argument about the precise legal framework (basically, the Mental Health Act trumps the other regimes if it is accessible, so that was the regime that happened here). The Judge was obviously mindful that under the Mental Health Act, ML’s family could oppose detention under the nearest relative requirement and that an application MIGHT be made to displace them as nearest relatives.
83. For this reason I propose to take an unusual course. As I have foreshadowed above, any application to displace the nearest relative is to be reserved to me (upon the relevant authorisation to sit as a County Court Judge). I also propose to release this judgment to the President of the First Tier Tribunal with an invitation to him to allocate a judge of the First Tier to hear any applications in this case, to ensure judicial continuity. I will provide that a copy of this judgment follows this case.

Finally, there were some general case management observations
84. By way of a postscript I would add that I am delivering this judgment in early May having heard evidence and submissions in late February and early March. To accommodate the hearing of this case it was necessary to sit long hours and to overrun into the following case. No time was allocated to read the extensive papers in advance. Two volumes of authorities were presented in closing submission, and no time at all had been allocated to reflect on the submissions to write the judgment or to reflect on the submissions.
85. The consequence is that this judgment has been delayed to a degree that I consider to be quite unacceptable for ML. Those who practice within the Court of Protection must understand that it is part of the responsibility of the lawyers to ensure that there are realistic time estimates given to the court. The instinct to underestimate the timescale of a case in order that it might be heard more expeditiously is misconceived as this case certainly has proved. I make these observations because this case is far from an isolated example. That said I have received invaluable assistance from all Counsel to whom I am extremely grateful.

 

Lucy Series over at The Small Places has written about another case where the vulnerable person has been very badly let down by professionals

https://thesmallplaces.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/another-local-authority-behaving-badly/

and I agree with everything that she writes there. I am do not feel that in either case, quite enough attention went on what could be put in place to care and support these people living in their own homes rather than in institutions.

A Re B type judgment is overdue in Mental Capacity cases, that would put the emphasis squarely on making things work at home if at all possible.

Let’s find you a nice young man

The law on capacity and sexuality is developing swiftly at the moment, and throwing up some really difficult decisions.

In A Local Authority v TZ (no 2) 2014, the Court of Protection went on from its first judgment that the man, TZ, had the capacity to consent to sexual intercourse. TZ was homosexual, so one of the three principles (does the person understand the mechanics, the risk of STDs and the risk of pregnancy) doesn’t apply.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/COP/2014/973.html

The issue that then arose was whether TZ had capacity to make safe choices about people he might chose to have sex with.

 

 

  • Accordingly, the questions arising here are:

 

 

 

(1) whether TZ has the capacity to make a decision whether or not an individual with whom he may wish to have sexual relations is safe, and, if not, 

(2) whether he has the capacity to make a decision as to the support he requires when having contact with an individual with whom he may wish to have sexual relations.

 

[I personally bear in mind that almost every parent ever would have wanted at some point and even for a brief flickering moment, the right to veto their child's choice of boyfriend or girlfriend, but we have to let them make their own mistakes in life. There are certain people who like "bad boys", sometimes they grow out of it, sometimes they don't. Most teenagers would prefer someone that their parents disapproved of   -  John Bender in the Breakfast Club would be no parents choice for their child, but the parents choice of Brian isn't going to fly. But this is a tricky situation - TZ clearly had some vulnerabilities. The Judge carefully reminded himself of the tension between being protective and giving people freedom to make what others might see as poor choices]

bender

 

John  Bender  (bad boy alert)

 

Parent's choice, lovely Brian

Parent’s choice, lovely Brian

  • In addressing the issues of capacity in this case, I bear in mind a number of other points of law.

 

 

 

  • Importantly, capacity is both issue-specific and time specific. A person may have capacity in respect of certain matters but not in relation to other matters. Equally, a person may have capacity at one time and not at another. The question is whether, at the date on which the court is considering capacity, the person lacks the capacity in issue.

 

 

 

  • Next, as Macur J (as she then was) observed in LBL v RYJ [2010] EWHC 2664 (Fam) (at paragraph 24), “it is not necessary for the person to comprehend every detail of the issue … it is not always necessary for a person to comprehend all peripheral detail .…” The question is whether the person under review can “comprehend and weigh the salient details relevant to the decision to be made” (ibid, paragraph 58).

 

 

 

  • Furthermore, in assessing the question of capacity, the court must consider all the relevant evidence. Clearly, the opinion of an independently-instructed expert will be likely to be of very considerable importance, but in addition the court in these cases will invariably have evidence from other professionals who have experience of treating and working with P, the subject of the proceedings, and sometimes from friends and family and indeed from P himself.. As Charles J observed (in the analogous context of care proceedings) in A County Council v KD and L [2005] EWHC 144 (Fam) [2005] 1 FLR 851 at paras 39 and 44, “it is important to remember (i) that the roles of the court and the expert are distinct and (ii) it is the court that is in the position to weigh the expert evidence against its findings on the other evidence… the judge must always remember that he or she is the person who makes the final decision”. Thus, when assessing the ability of a person to (a) understand the information relevant to the decision (b) retain that information, and (c) use or weigh that information as part of the process of making the decision, the court must consider all the evidence, not merely the views of the independent expert.

 

 

 

  • Finally, I reiterate the further point, to which I have alluded in earlier decisions, including PH v A Local Authority, Z Ltd and R [2011] EWHC 1704 (Fam) and CC v KK [2012] EWHC 2136 (COP). In a case involving a vulnerable adult, there is a risk that all professionals involved with treating and helping that person – including, of course, a judge in the Court of Protection – may feel drawn towards an outcome that is more protective of the adult and thus, in certain circumstances, fail to carry out an assessment of capacity that is detached and objective.

and later

 

 

  • In this context, as so often, the way forward is illuminated by observations of Munby J, as he then was, on this occasion in Re MM (An Adult) [2007] EWHC 2003 (Fam). In that case (decided under the inherent jurisdiction), the Court was concerned with the approach to be adopted in a case of a person who had capacity to consent to sexual relations but lacked the capacity to make decisions about contact with a long-term partner. In such circumstances, Munby J held that “the court … is entitled to intervene to protect a vulnerable adult from the risk of future harm – the risk of future abuse or future exploitation – so long as there is a real possibility, rather than a merely fanciful risk, of such harm. But the court must adopt a pragmatic, common sense and robust approach to the identification, evaluation and management of perceived risk” (paragraph 119).

 

 

 

  • The following much-quoted paragraph is particularly relevant:

 

 

“A great judge once said, ‘all life is an experiment’, adding that ‘every year if not every day we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge (see Holmes J in Abrams v United States (1919) 250 US 616 at 630). The fact is that all life involves risk, and the young, the elderly and the vulnerable, are exposed to additional risks and to risks they are less well equipped than others to cope with. But just as wise parents resist the temptation to keep their children metaphorically wrapped up in cotton wool, so too we must avoid the temptation always to put the physical health and safety of the elderly and the vulnerable before everything else. Often it will be appropriate to do so, but not always. Physical health and safety can sometimes be brought at too high a price in happiness and emotional welfare. The emphasis must be on sensible risk appraisal, not striving to avoid all risk, whatever the price, but instead seeking a proper balance and being willing to tolerate manageable or acceptable risks as the price appropriately to be paid in order to achieve some other good – in particular to achieve the vital good of the elderly or vulnerable person’s happiness. What good is it making someone safer if it merely makes them miserable?”

 

 

I won’t get heavily into the particular facts in the case, they are all set out in the judgment should you want to read them – there was quite a body of professional opinion that TZ lacked the skills to weigh up whether someone was a safe person to approach or have sex with.

 

The Court’s decision on capacity is set out below

 

  • I find on a balance of probabilities that TZ does not have the capacity to decide whether a person with whom he may wish to have sexual relations is safe. I base that finding on the detailed assessments of TZ carried out by JS and Dr X, both of whom have had an opportunity to assess him over a period of time. These assessments include extensive conversations with TZ in which he has himself acknowledged that he lacks this capacity. In particular, while he has the ability to understand and retain information, he lacks the ability to use or weigh up the information, including the ability to assess risk and, in the language of s. 3(4), to understand the reasonably foreseeable consequences of the decision. This is, in my judgment, a good example of the distinction identified in paragraph 4.30 of the Code of Practice between, on the one hand, unwise decisions, which a person has the right to make, and, on the other hand, decisions based on a lack of understanding of risks and the inability to weigh up the information concerning a decision.

 

 

 

  • I have also borne in mind s. 1(2) – that a person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision unless all practicable steps to help him to do so have been taken without success. Having regard to Dr X’s advice, however, I consider that there is no immediate prospect of extending TZ’s capacity via a programme of education. Such a programme must, of course, be an integral part of the best interests care plan which would be put in place as a result of a declaration of incapacity.

 

 

 

  • The evidence therefore establishes that he lacks the capacity to decide whether or not any individual with whom he may wish to have a sexual relationship is safe. As to the second capacity in issue, JS concluded in her report that he did have the capacity to make decisions regarding his care and support. In oral evidence, however, JS qualified this opinion, saying that TZ can understand why he needs support “if he is in the right frame of mind”, and that his capacity in this respect is variable. She said that sometimes he is more open about taking things on board than at other times. Dr X concluded that TZ lacked this capacity. He thought that TZ’s current compliance with support did not mean that he understands the need for that support and thought it quite likely that at some stage he would ask a support worker to leave.

 

 

 

  • Notwithstanding the view set out in JS’s written assessment, I conclude after close analysis that TZ does not have the capacity to decide what support he requires when having contact with an individual with whom he may wish to have sexual relations.

 

 

 

  • In reaching these conclusions as to capacity, I have reminded myself, again, of the need to avoid what could be called the vulnerable person’s protective imperative – that is to say, the dangers of being drawn towards an outcome that is more protective of the adult and thus fail to carry out an assessment of capacity that is detached and objective. I do not consider that I have fallen into that trap in this case.

 

 

But having established that TZ lacks that capacity, the Court then have to approach any declarations with a view to what is in TZ’s best interests

 

 

 

 

“First, P’s wishes and feelings will always be a significant factor to which the court must pay close regard …. Secondly, the weight to be attached to P’s wishes and feelings will always be case-specific and fact-specific …. Thirdly, in considering the weight and importance to be attached to P’s wishes and feelings, the court must … have regard to all the relevant circumstances … [which] will include … (a) the degrees of P’s incapacity … (b) the strength and consistency of the views being expressed by P; (c) the possible impact on P of knowledge that [his] wishes and feelings are not being given effect to … (d) the extent to which P’s wishes and feelings are, or are not, rational, sensible, responsible and, pragmatically capable of sensible implementation in the particular circumstances; and (e) crucially, the extent to which P’s wishes and feelings, if given effect to, can properly be accommodated within the court’s overall assessment of what is in [his] best interests.”

 

  • Mr. McKendrick further submits, rightly, that in applying the principle in s.1(6) and generally, the Court must have regard to TZ’s human rights, in particular his rights under article 8 of ECHR to respect for private and family life. As the European Court of Human Rights observed in Niemitz v Germany (1993) 16 EHRR 97 at para 29, “private life” includes, inter alia, the right to establish relationships with other human beings. This has been reiterated on a number of occasions, see for example Pretty v UK (2002) EHRR 1 at paragraph 61 and in Evans v UK (2008) 46 EHRR 34 at paragraph 71. There is a positive obligation on the state to take measures to ensure that his private life is respected, and the European Court has stated that “these obligations may involve the adoption of measures designed to secure respect for private life even in the sphere of the relations of individuals between themselves”: Botta v Italy (1998) 26 EHRR 241 paragraph 33.

 

 

 

  • These principles plainly apply when considering what steps should be taken to protect someone, such as TZ, who has the capacity to consent to sexual relations but lacks both the capacity to make a decision whether or not an individual with whom he may wish to have sexual relations is safe and the capacity to make a decision as to the support he requires when having contact with such an individual. In such circumstances, the state through the local authority is under a positive obligation to take steps to ensure that TZ is supported in having a sexual relationship should he wish to do so.

 

 

 

  • In passing, it should be noted that this is consistent with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (ratified by the UK in 2009 although not yet incorporated into English law) and in particular article 23 which requires states to “take effective and appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against persons with in all matters relating to marriage, family, parenthood and relationships, on an equal basis with others”.

 

 

 

  • In addition, the state is under an obligation to take steps to protect TZ from harm.

 

How to apply those principles to TZ’s case

 

  • In the light of these principles and dicta, what steps should this court now take in TZ’s best interests?

 

 

 

  • On behalf of the Official Solicitor, Mr. McKendrick asserts that the challenge for the parties and the court is to develop a best interests framework which permits TZ sufficient autonomy of decision-making and respects his right to a private life whilst balancing the need to protect him from harm. He identifies three options: (1) take no best interests decision at this stage but react should TZ find himself in a situation when he is the subject of harm or at risk of harm; (2) require the applicant local authority to draft a care plan and submit it to the court for approval; (3) appoint a welfare deputy to make decisions on TZ’s behalf. Neither party is advocating for the first option. Both parties agree that the court should direct the local authority to file a care plan. The issues are, first, as to the contents of that plan and, secondly, whether a welfare deputy should be appointed.

 

 

 

  • The local authority has filed a draft care support plan. The Official Solicitor has made a number of observations about that plan. There is considerable common ground between the two parties, but some differences remain.

 

 

 

  • What follows are some proposals by the court for the sort of measures that should be included in the plan. Decision-making for incapacitated adults should, as far as possible, be a collaborative exercise. The observations as to the contents of the plan should be seen as part of that process.

 

 

 

  • I propose that the plan should contain the following elements: (a) basic principles; (b) education and empowerment; (c) support; (d) intervention; (e) decision-making. Under this last heading, I shall consider the local authority’s application for the appointment of a deputy.

 

 

(a) Basic principles

 

  • The basis for the plan is uncontroversial and can be summarised as follows.

 

 

 

(1) TZ lives at H Home. In due course, he may move to a step-down facility and, in the long run, into supported living. 

(2) He will have available to him a number of hours of 1 : 1 support every week. Currently that is fixed at 32 hours.

(3) He has capacity to consent to and enter into sexual relations. He has the right to establish relationships with other human beings and wishes to meet other men with whom he may have sexual relations.

(4) He lacks the capacity to make a decision whether or not an individual with whom he may wish to have sexual relations is safe and the capacity to make a decision as to the support he requires when having contact with such an individual.

(5) The local authority and the Court are under a positive obligation to ensure that he is supported in having a sexual relationship should he wish to do so, but also to ensure, as far as possible, that he is kept safe from harm.

(6) The purpose of the plan is therefore to identify the support to be provided to assist him in developing a sexual relationship without exposing him to a risk of harm.

 

You can see, hopefully, that the overall goal of the plan is to keep TZ safe whilst teaching him the skills he will need to keep himself safe – he is not prevented from forming relationships with other men, nor indeed from having sex with them; it is more that he is to be assisted in making those decisions.

 

Getting down to brass tacks though, what are professionals supposed to do if TZ meets someone he is attracted to?

 

 

  • Mr McKendrick submits, and I agree, that TZ must have some “space” to make decisions for himself, even if this involves making mistakes, to assist him to learn (as far as he can) from the consequences of those decisions. Mr Dooley indicated that the local authority agreed that learning through experience is critical for TZ.

 

 

 

  • Mr McKendrick further submits, and I accept, that, should TZ meet a stranger, he is entitled to have private time with that person and support staff should intervene only if there is an identified risk of that person being abusive towards TZ. I agree with the Official Solicitor that the local authority and its support staff cannot interview or ‘vet’ anyone with whom TZ wishes to communicate and cannot assume that everyone he speaks to is likely to present a risk of abuse. Mr Dooley stated that the local authority’s position is that, if there is a problem in these circumstances, there will need to be a risk assessment to determine whether intervention is required. Having identified that intervention is required, the next step would be to consider the least restrictive intervention necessary to ensure that TZ is safe.

 

 

 

  • In the event that TZ decides he wishes to spend the night with someone, the care plan must provide that a private space can be made available. H Home has now indicated that he will be permitted to have a visitor to stay subject to the proviso that any visitor would have to be subject to safeguarding checks to protect other residents. A similar provision would be made in the event that TZ moved to a step-down facility.

 

 

 

  • If TZ meets someone and develops a relationship, or if he says he wishes to leave H Home and cohabit with another person, a specific capacity assessment will be required to determine whether he has the capacity to make a decision about contact with that person. If the outcome is that he has capacity, the sexual relationship should be facilitated, unless it is concluded that there is a significant risk of harm. If the assessment concludes that he lacks that capacity, or that there is a likelihood that he will suffer significant harm as a result of a relationship, a further application will have to be made to the court. If the court accepts that he lacks capacity, a best interests decision will then be made. If the court concludes that he has capacity, but that he is at risk of harm, it may be that the court would resort to protective powers under its inherent jurisdiction as to vulnerable adults. At all stages, of course, TZ must be assisted to participate in the decision-making process.

 

 

It is not the role of the Local Authority to ‘vet’ TZ’s partners or potential partners, nor do they have a role of veto

 

 

  • the plan must clearly delineate the circumstances in which care workers may intervene to protect TZ and the steps they are entitled to take when intervening.

 

 

 

  • On behalf of the Official Solicitor, Mr McKendrick submits, and I accept, that it is not the role of the local authority staff to vet TZ’s sexual partners. They must not deny him private time with a proposed sexual partner simply because they consider that partner is unsuitable, unless there is a clearly identified risk that the proposed partner poses a real risk of abuse to TZ during their contact. As the Official Solicitor submits, the assessment of abuse must be rigorous and evidence-based, or, adopting the phrase used by Munby J in Re MM, (supra) “pragmatic, common sense and robust”. As the Official Solicitor points out, capacitous adults also run the risk of abuse and harm. The adults protecting TZ must be given the tools to assist him, because of his vulnerabilities, but they cannot act in his best interests by attempting to eliminate all risks of harm. (“What good is making someone safe if it merely makes them miserable?”)

 

 

 

  • As JS has set out in her draft support plan, if TZ says he wants to go off with someone he has just met, the care workers would try to dissuade him, reminding him of the staged approach to new relationships previously discussed and agreed. In the event that he refused to listen to support workers in those circumstances, and where there were concerns regarding the risk of harm, the care worker involved should immediately alert management, who would in turn ensure that legal representatives were informed. A decision would then be taken as to whether the police should be informed, and/or whether an application should be made to the Court of Protection.

 

There was a mental health case in the last year, where a Judge set down a seventeen point plan of things that ought to be considered by a hospital before deciding that a patient was so dangerous that he needed to be transferred to a safer hospital, and the Court of Appeal ended up observing that if you get a Judge to draw up a model, he or she invariably draws up a very judicial/lawyery one which attempts to dot every i, and cross every t, but reality doesn’t always allow for that.  I think that this is a damn good attempt to put a framework in place that tries to give TZ freedom and keep him safe and they are laudable aims – I am certain that I could not have done any better.  But it does bring up the mental picture of a man smiling at TZ in Starbucks and staff members thumbing through the judgment to initiate “Phase Four of the plan”

 

Do you suspect that the staff will be likely to be on low alert for a Brian, but be contemplating intervention for the bad-boy type?

 

Ethical dilemmas and blood transfusions

 

This is part one of a Court of Protection decision about a very difficult case, throwing up ethical dilemmas.

Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust and J

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/COP/2014/1136.html

The features are so complex that it almost reads like an exam question designed to push the law to its breaking point, but tragically involves a real person.

J is a 23 year old, detained under the Mental Health Act – he has a personality disorder.

. A symptom of his disorder is that “he engages in significant self-harm through self-laceration and bloodletting, most recently by opening his brachial artery”. As I understand it, it is not the opinion of the treating psychiatrist that he suffers from any kind of delusions or delusional disorder. His intelligence is within the range of normal and he appears (although this may require further exploration) to have capacity both to make decisions with regard to his medical treatment and also to instruct lawyers to conduct litigation on his behalf.
he “has a long history of significant and repeated self-harming behaviour. His self-harm includes self-strangulation with ligatures and plastic bags, burning himself, and self-injury, including head-butting and self-laceration. He frequently re-opens wounds to aggravate an existing injury and cause further damage and blood loss.”

J signed an advance directive, specifying that he did not want to accept blood transfusions. His parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses and it seems that he had regained that faith.

4. Another aspect of this case is that, because of some history of thrombosis, he is prescribed the anti-coagulant, Warfarin, which has the effect that when he does bleed, he bleeds more profusely than he might otherwise do. Another aspect of the case is that his parents are of the Jehovah’s Witness faith. I understand (although this may later be corrected) that for an appreciable period of time he did not himself profess that faith, but in the last few months he has apparently embraced it and now professes and adheres to the tenets of that particular faith. I have been told in counsel’s case summary that “He has stated that he now practises his religion by praying, reading the bible and reading The Watch Tower magazine. He reports that his religion is important in his life. He remains in contact with his father, who supports him in his faith.” As is widely known, a tenet of the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a prohibition on receiving by transfusion blood or blood products.
5. According to counsel’s case summary, “On 1 February 2014 when in prison he seriously cut his right arm, opening his brachial artery at the antecubital fossa with a razor blade. He had significant blood loss and his haemoglobin fell to an extremely life-threatening level. He was admitted to intensive care and a blood transfusion was advised. He refused blood products on the basis of his Jehovah’s Witness faith. The treating hospital abided by his expressed wish, believing it to be capably stated.” Happily, he in fact survived that event without any blood being transfused.
The Judge looked at the advance directive and circumstances in which it was signed and concluded this

it appears to me that this is clearly an advance decision which was made with capacity and is valid within the meaning of, and for the purposes of, those provisions, and is also one which is applicable to the treatment described in the advance decision, namely a treatment which is transfusions into him of blood or primary blood components (red cells, white cells, plasma or platelets). I am therefore willing to declare on an interim basis that that written advance decision is valid and is applicable to that treatment, not withstanding that (a) his life may be at risk from the refusal of treatment, and (b) he is a patient detained under the Mental Health Acts.
I.e that J had capacity to make the decision that he did not want blood transfusions. Ordinarily, that would be that.

But, when the Mental Health Act comes into play, things become more difficult. There is the power under the MHA s63 for a hospital to provide medical treatment even where the patient does not consent – in effect overriding that objection; IF the medical treatment is for the mental disorder from which he is suffering

“The consent of a patient shall not be required for any medical treatment given to him for the mental disorder from which he is suffering…if the treatment is given by or under the direction of the approved clinician in charge of the treatment.”
The narrowness or otherwise of s63 has been litigated before (most notably in Ian Brady’s case, where feeding him with tubes was held to be a s63 treatment, even though he rationally understood that his hunger strike would result in his death)

There appears to be clear authority, and in particular the decision of the Court of Appeal in B v Croydon Health Authority [1995] Fam 133, to the effect that the expression “medical treatment given to him for the mental disorder from which he is suffering” is wide enough to extend to medical treatment for physical conditions caused or arising as a result of the underlying mental disorder. Thus if a detained patient suffers from the mental disorder of anorexia, it may be lawful to force-feed that patient as part of “medical treatment given to him for the mental disorder from which he is suffering.” If a detained patient cuts himself as a result of a self-harming mental disorder, then it may be lawful under that section to treat and stitch up the cuts. It is little or no extension of that approach that if, as a result of the mental disorder from which he is suffering, a patient cuts himself and bleeds so profusely that he needs a blood transfusion, it is part of the “medical treatment…for the mental disorder from which he is suffering” to give a medically necessary blood transfusion. So the question arises in this tragic situation, on the particular facts of this case (he being a detained mental patient), as to the interrelation between the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in relation to advance decisions and the power under section 63 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to give medical treatment notwithstanding the absence of a consent.
So, it appears that the hospital could legally authorise blood transfusions even though J was objecting to them and had capacity to make that decision.

But, the hospital (I think very properly) felt uncomfortable about doing that, and wanted to place the issues before the Court
13. The dilemma is very well expressed in the statement by the treating psychiatrist, who says,
“I am…aware…that because [the patient] is a detained patient under section 63 of the Mental Health Act I have a power, as his responsible clinician, to override even a capable refusal of medical treatment [viz the advance decision] where that treatment is for the consequences of his mental disorder. It is my opinion that his self-harming behaviour that gives rise to the need for blood products is a direct consequence of his mental disorder and that hence I could use section 63 powers to enforce treatment with blood products upon him despite his capacitous refusal. I have some ethical difficulty in using the Mental Health Act to override a capacitous patient’s wishes based on religious wishes and I would not choose to use my Mental Health Act powers to override his advance decision.”
14. Pausing there, it can at once be seen why I said earlier in this judgment that this case raises ethical issues, for there is the treating doctor herself saying that she professionally feels “some ethical difficulty” in overriding his advance decision even though she has a power to do so under section 63 of the Mental Health Act 1983 and even though he might otherwise die. She continues in her statement:
“However, because of the significant consequences of abiding by his advance decision, which could result in his death, I seek a declaration from the Court as to (1) whether the advance decision is valid and applicable (on taking account of the context that he is refusing life-saving treatment for self-harm which is medicated through his mental disorder) and, if so, (2) whether in coming to my view that blood products should not be enforced upon him in the light of a valid and applicable advance decision, I have correctly struck the balance between the right to freedom of religion and the Article 2 right to life of a detained patient.”

 

The hospital were therefore of the view that although they COULD exercise their power under s63 MHA to compel blood transfusions, they did not feel that they SHOULD.

Pausing there, a question arises as to whether the Court is the right place to make decisions about medical ethics. As Holman J points out (though in neater language than I use) – If you want law, Courts are the right place, if you want ethics you may be in the wrong place.

I must stress at once that it is never the business of a court in these sorts of situations to make any kind of ethical decision. That is a matter for doctors alone, applying such guidance, if any, as they can obtain from their professional medical bodies. All the court can do is state the applicable law and, where appropriate, apply it in the form of a legal, though not necessarily an ethical, decision.

 

The Court felt uncomfortable about trying to resolve this dilemma without someone speaking on behalf of J, and decided that J’s voice had to be heard before any decision could properly be made

16. The passage that I have just quoted from the statement of the psychiatrist very clearly highlights the terrible dilemma in this case. On the one hand, this young adult has made a clear advance decision, whilst apparently having capacity to do so, that, because of his religious beliefs, he utterly refuses consent and positively directs that he should not be transfused with blood or blood products. On the other hand, he is compulsorily detained, both as a prisoner and now in a psychiatric hospital, where, so far as possible and lawful, the state is under obvious duties to protect him, as the consultant psychiatrist identified in the above passage. He has a right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights; but, under other articles of that Convention, he has a right to freedom of religion and a right to respect for his private life, which includes his own bodily integrity.
17. I have been asked today to make an interim declaration that “it is lawful for those responsible for the medical care of the respondent to act in accordance with his written advance decision and withhold treatment by blood transfusion or with blood products in accordance with his expressed wishes notwithstanding the existence of powers under section 63 of the Mental Health Act 1983.” That is not a declaration which I feel equipped or am willing to make after a hearing of this kind in which I have heard representations from only one side and which is not on notice to the patient or any other person. It is of the essence of the application to the court that this is an issue of very considerable difficulty. Precisely because it is one of such difficulty, it is not one upon which the court can judicially and responsibly rule without hearing and considering so far as possible the arguments on both sides of the issue.
It will be interesting to know how part two develops.

The continuing dilemma for the court is that, unless somebody such as the Official Solicitor engages in this case, there may be no contrary argument. The present position of the patient seems to be that he utterly refuses to consent to a transfusion even if that has the effect of his dying as a result of his self-harming acts (even if those acts are not themselves done with suicidal intent). The position at the moment of the consulting psychiatrist, and therefore of the Trust, is that, notwithstanding the power under section 63, they should not in fact exercise it. Thus, the present position seems to be that if the physical restraints are removed and he is able again to cause profuse bleeding, he may die, whether he intends to bring about his death or not. If there is a contrary argument that the power under section 63 should be positively exercised in circumstances such as this, then it will be very important indeed for the court to hear it.

 

If I were making a prediction, it would be that the Court will decide that the hospital COULD use s63, but fall short of saying that they SHOULD. I think that the Court will probably make the declaration that the Trust seek

“it is lawful for those responsible for the medical care of the respondent to act in accordance with his written advance decision and withhold treatment by blood transfusion or with blood products in accordance with his expressed wishes notwithstanding the existence of powers under section 63 of the Mental Health Act 1983”

But Article 2, and the authorities on the article 2 right to life are probably going to play a significant role in the decision, and I think it could go the other way.

To be clear, the Court cannot MAKE the hospital perform the blood transfusions, but declining to make the declaration that they seek that they SHOULD NOT do it and honour J’s advance directive makes life very uncomfortable for them if they decide not to.

Incapacity cannot be deduced from isolated incidents of eccentric reasoning

The Court of Protection decision in Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust and JB 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/COP/2014/342.html

In this case, the Court of Protection, in the form of Mr Justice Peter Jackson, was faced with an application by the Hospital for a declaration that JB, who was not consenting to an amputation, lacked capacity to make that decision and that the surgery was in her best interests.

The case throws up some interesting issues, and I think it leads fairly neatly into my next piece, in suggesting that the Court of Protection may be moving away from a patrician “State knows best” view of cases towards a more “vulnerable people are owed some respect for their wishes and feelings” view.

You can’t really sum up the whole issue of capacity and declarations about capacity much better than the Judge does here – it is an excellent distillation of the balancing act that the Court has to perform

    1. The right to decide whether or not to consent to medical treatment is one of the most important rights guaranteed by law. Few decisions are as significant as the decision about whether to have major surgery. For the doctors, it can be difficult to know what recommendation to make. For the patient, the decision about whether to accept or reject medical advice involves weighing up the risks and benefits according to the patient’s own system of values against a background where diagnosis and prognosis are rarely certain, even for the doctors. Such decisions are intensely personal. They are taken in stressful circumstances. There are no right or wrong answers. The freedom to choose for oneself is a part of what it means to be a human being.

 

    1. For this reason, anyone capable of making decisions has an absolute right to accept or refuse medical treatment, regardless of the wisdom or consequences of the decision. The decision does not have to be justified to anyone. In the absence of consent any invasion of the body will be a criminal assault. The fact that the intervention is well-meaning or therapeutic makes no difference.

 

    1. There are some who, as a result of an impairment or disturbance in the functioning of the mind or brain, lack the mental capacity to decide these things for themselves. For their sake, there is a system of legal protection, now codified in the Mental Capacity Act 2005. This empowers the Court of Protection to authorise actions that would be in the best interests of the incapacitated person.

 

    1. The Act contains a number of important general principles regarding capacity:

 

  • A person lacks capacity in relation to a matter if at the material time he is unable to make a decision for himself in relation to the matter because of an impairment of, or a disturbance in the functioning of, the mind or brain: s.2(1).
  • A person must be assumed to have capacity unless it is established that he lacks capacity: s.1(2).
  • The question of whether a person lacks capacity must be decided on the balance of probabilities: s.2(4).
  • A person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision unless all practicable steps to help him to do so have been taken without success: s.1(3)
  • A person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision merely because he makes an unwise decision: s.1(4).
  • A lack of capacity cannot be established merely by reference to—

(a) a person’s age or appearance, or

(b) a condition of his, or an aspect of his behaviour, which might lead others to make unjustified assumptions about his capacity: s.2(3).

    1. These principles reflect the self-evident seriousness of interfering with another person’s freedom of action. Accordingly, interim measures aside, the power to intervene only arises after it is has been proved that the person concerned lacks capacity. We have no business to be interfering in any other circumstances. This is of particular importance to people with disadvantages or disabilities. The removal of such ability as they have to control their own lives may feel an even greater affront to them that to others who are more fortunate.

 

    1. Furthermore, the Act provides (s.1(6)) that even where a person lacks capacity, any interference with their rights and freedom of action must be the least restrictive possible: this acknowledges that people who lack capacity still have rights and that their freedom of action is as important to them as it is to anyone else.

 

  1. The temptation to base a judgement of a person’s capacity upon whether they seem to have made a good or bad decision, and in particular upon whether they have accepted or rejected medical advice, is absolutely to be avoided. That would be to put the cart before the horse or, expressed another way, to allow the tail of welfare to wag the dog of capacity. Any tendency in this direction risks infringing the rights of that group of persons who, though vulnerable, are capable of making their own decisions. Many who suffer from mental illness are well able to make decisions about their medical treatment, and it is important not to make unjustified assumptions to the contrary.

 

By way of background to this case

    1. It concerns a 62 year old lady named JB. In earlier life, before she became too unwell, she undertook responsible work. She now lives with her twin sister. She is described by her Community Psychiatric Nurse as a strong willed woman who before her latest illness was good at needlework and art, enjoyed reading, attended her local church and took a lot of interest in community events.

 

  1. JB has a number of mental and physical disabilities. In her 20s, she was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia for which she has received treatment of various kinds, including during several involuntary hospital admissions, the last being in 2005. Since then she has been subject to what is now known as a Community Treatment Order. She lacks insight into her mental illness but accepts antipsychotic medication to avoid being returned to hospital.
    1. On New Year’s Eve, JB, having been unwell for several days, was readmitted and has remained in hospital since then. Her right foot was now entirely mummified and by the end of January it had come off, leaving an unresolved wound. Once again, the advice of the surgeons was that an amputation was necessary to allow the wound to be closed and to prevent it becoming infected. JB continued to refuse consent for this on some occasions, though she expressed agreement on others. Indeed, on 4 February she signed a consent form. Once again, doubts were expressed about her capacity, with no clear conclusion being reached. An example is the report of Dr B, who assessed JB on 14 January and concluded that “I am of the opinion that one needs to be certain of her capacity to consent or refuse the proposed intervention… However one cannot say with certainty she lacks capacity.” It was again agreed that an application would be made to the Court of Protection.

 

    1. In the meantime, discussion was taking place between surgeons, physicians and consultants in rehabilitation as to the nature of the amputation that would be most appropriate. At different times, it has been suggested that there should be amputation below the knee, through the knee or above the knee. Each option has important consequences in relation to the process of rehabilitation and the possibility of the patient walking in future. At the outset of this hearing the Trust’s position was that a through-knee operation should be approved, but this then changed to a recommendation for a below-knee operation. It is to be noted that the consent form signed by JB only two days before the proceedings began had covered an above-knee operation. The relevance of all of this is that the attempts to assess her capacity have taken place against a background of shifting medical opinion.

 

  1. On 6 February, the Trust applied to the court for a declaration that JB lacks capacity to make a decision about serious medical treatment. It sought a declaration that it would be in her best interests to have a through-knee amputation and for her to be sedated if she resisted.

21. I turn to the question of whether JB has the capacity to decide whether or not to consent to amputation of her right leg. The Trust says that she does not, relying upon evidence given by Dr O. The Official Solicitor says that she does, relying upon the evidence of Dr Pravin Prabhakaran, consultant psychiatrist, and Mr Jack Collin, consultant surgeon. Each of these witnesses has assessed JB during the past week and gave evidence during the hearing.

 

The issue of capacity was a critical one – the Judge makes it manifestly plain – if a person has capacity to consent to surgery and understands the pros and cons and risks and benefits to make an informed choice then they also have the capacity to say no. The surgery could not be performed on JB if she had capacity, because she has the right to say no.  IF she lacked capacity, then the Court would still have to consider whether the surgery was in her best interests (which does not mean simply substituting what a rational person might do in her shoes, but a consideration of what is in HER best interests)

Frankly, if surgeons came to me and said that they couldn’t agree on whether to cut my leg off above the knee, below the knee or through the knee, I wouldn’t consent to an amputation – I’d tell them to go away and come back when they know between themselves which it was.

The Judge makes a very good point about the process of assessing a person’s capacity

What is required here is a broad, general understanding of the kind that is expected from the population at large. JB is not required to understand every last piece of information about her situation and her options: even her doctors would not make that claim. It must also be remembered that common strategies for dealing with unpalatable dilemmas – for example indecision, avoidance or vacillation – are not to be confused with incapacity. We should not ask more of people whose capacity is questioned than of those whose capacity is undoubted.

 

Absolutely. Anyone faced with that decision would have had some emotional reaction to it, and some changes of heart, some denial, some over-optimism, some hopelessness. It is not fair to set the test of capacity as though the person had to approach the decision as though they were Mr Spock, coolly and dispassionately considering the pros and cons.

On assessing the conflicting medical evidence about capacity, the Judge broadly considered that those who claimed she did not have capacity were placing too high a test on JB  (underlining mine)

    1. At the hearing evidence was taken from Dr O and Dr Prabhakaran via a telephone conference call (so that the latter heard the former’s evidence), and from Mr Collin in person.

 

    1. Dr O has been JB’s community psychiatrist since October 2013. She has seen her three times: October, January and 12 February. She advises that JB lacks insight into her mental state and does not believe that she has a mental illness. This is not uncommon with schizophrenia. Dr O believes that in relation to her physical health, JB can understand and retain some but not all of what is being said by the doctors, but that her ability to weigh the information is compromised by her tendency to minimise and disbelieve what the doctors are telling her. She conceded that JB’s approach was possibly a normal reaction but said that she is not convinced that she had actually weighed all the evidence that she had been given. Nonetheless, over time JB has shown more belief and greater engagement, telling Dr O that she is frightened of surgery.

 

    1. Dr O advises that schizophrenia can have an effect on cognition but she was not in fact able to give any clear instance of irrationality in JB’s current thinking. She went so far as to say that the rejection of a through-knee operation was evidence of incapacity, although by the time she gave evidence this had been dropped as a plan.

 

    1. I note that as recently as 16 January, Dr O and Dr B expressed themselves unable to reach a conclusion as to whether JB had capacity and that during her assessment on 12 February, Dr O obtained only limited co-operation from JB.

 

    1. Dr Prabhakaran assessed JB on 9 and 12 February. She was more communicative with him than with Dr O, possibly because she regarded him as someone who is not implicated in her Community Treatment Order. He confirms the diagnosis of schizophrenia and the absence of any psychotic features or depression. He says that he had a detailed discussion with her about the various forms of amputation. JB was able to understand the main benefits and risks associated with each procedure, including the risk of death. He found her consistent in her views and reasoning process. She was very well orientated and had no problem with understanding or retaining information.

 

    1. Dr Prabhakaran discussed the then proposed through-knee operation, saying that it was the doctors’ preferred option. JB replied: “It is not my preferred option… I have a horror of the whole thing”. She said that she wanted her leg to remain as long as possible and only wanted any necrotic part removed. If she was to have an operation she wanted a longer leg and a hope of walking. She does not want to live her life with a shorter leg.

 

    1. During this conversation, JB would often pause for a long time before answering. Dr Prabhakaran considered this an effect of her schizophrenia impacting on her cognitive functioning, possibly alongside tiredness and the hospital environment. He says that given time, she can process and communicate her clear wishes. He is confident that JB has capacity to make a decision with regard to surgery, including a decision not to have it.

 

    1. Mr Collin assessed JB from a surgical perspective on 13 February. His conversation with her gave him a full opportunity to assess her understanding, as would be normal in such a case. His report details a full conversation. JB was able to give him a lucid and coherent medical history. In Mr Collin’s experience, few patients would give a better account. She has a tendency to minimise, but this is a natural response and not evidence of any incapacity. Mr Collin is aware that JB is mentally ill but throughout the discussion she gave him no reason to suspect a lack of capacity to consent or withhold consent for any essential operation.

 

    1. Mr Collin explained that JB’s decision in October to refuse surgery was unusual but not illogical and that from the medical perspective the loss of the foot by natural processes had been satisfactory. Surgically, her position is better now than it had been in October in that she is not currently suffering from any infection. As matters now stand, it is Mr Collin’s opinion that a below-knee amputation is the only sensible clinical decision to make, but if JB does not want this there would be no compelling reason to seek to persuade her otherwise. A substantial risk of infection with possibly life-threatening consequences in the longer term undoubtedly exists and the medical advice from any surgeon in the land would be clear, but she does not have to take it. Apart from anything else, the greater short-term risks arise from remaining in hospital with the risk of infection and from the small but not insignificant possibility of a major adverse consequence from surgery of this kind.

 

    1. It was, perhaps surprisingly, suggested to Mr Collin that he lacked the expertise to assess capacity. He accepted that the assessment of mental illness was outside his remit but said that he was well qualified to assess the capacity of patients to consent to operations. I agree. All doctors and many non-medical professionals (for example, social workers and solicitors) have to assess capacity at one time or another. Bearing in mind JB’s longstanding mental illness it is entirely appropriate that the core assessment of her capacity comes from psychiatrists, but other disciplines also have an important contribution to make.

 

    1. The combined and complementary evidence of Dr Prabhakaran and Mr Collin provides powerful confirmation that JB has the ability to understand, retain and weigh and use the necessary information about the nature, purpose and effects of the proposed treatment. I accept the view of Dr Prabhakaran that JB’s schizophrenia is relevant to the way in which she decides, and not to her capacity to decide. Her tendency at times to be uncommunicative or avoidant and to minimise the risks of inaction are understandable human ways of dealing with her predicament and do not amount to incapacity.

 

    1. I depart from the assessment of Dr O because I am not satisfied that she establishes the necessary link between JB’s mental illness and the alleged incapacity. Further, her analysis demands more of JB than the law requires. It is not for JB to understand everything, or to prove anything. Dr O among others has perfectly properly raised questions about JB’s capacity, but her evidence does no more than that and does not discharge the burden upon the Trust.

 

  1. I do not accept the Trust’s submission that incapacity can be deduced from isolated instances of eccentric reasoning on the part of JB: for example, agreeing to intravenous antibiotics or blood transfusion but refusing the necessary cannulation. I also reject the submission that those who conclude that JB does not lack capacity have failed to grapple with the facts that (i) she undoubtedly lacks capacity in relation to treatment for her mental illness and (ii) she has lacked capacity in relation to surgical treatment in the past and (iii) she has changed her position from refusal of all surgery to a willingness to contemplate an operation of some kind, a situation calling for investigation. As to the first element, as has already been said, there is no necessary correlation between a lack of insight into schizophrenia and incapacity to decide about surgery. The second element begs the question, in that it has not been established that JB has ever lacked capacity to decide about surgery. Finally, the development in JB’s thinking about amputation was in my view well understood by Dr Prahakaran. Insofar as it calls for any explanation, her view has evolved over time in a way that is consistent with her mental state.

 

A particular issue arises, and is dealt with in paragraph 28 – there was a time in the process, when JB was accepting that surgery was the right option (i.e following the medical advice). There’s always a risk in these situations that one tends to assume that the person has capacity when they make a decision that the doctor supports – just because JB agreed with the doctor does not mean that she had capacity. If she had said no, on the same day, the temptation would have been to dispute that she had capacity to say no, but the test and principles are the same. The ability to say no doesn’t require more capacity than the ability to say yes.

 

28. A similar issue arises from the statement of Dr W, a vascular surgeon. In common with the other surgeons he believes that an amputation is in JB’s best interests. Writing on 5 February, he said “…we now have a window of opportunity as she has become cooperative with her medical management and has consented to the operation…” There is a danger that in a difficult case like this the patient is regarded as capable of making a decision that follows medical advice but incapable of making one that does not.

 

The conclusion therefore was that JB had capacity, and that there was no locus to make a declaration. It seemed that JB might be more willing to consent to the surgery, but that had to be her free choice.

My conclusion is that JB undoubtedly has a disturbance in the functioning of her mind in the form of paranoid schizophrenia (as to which she lacks insight), but that it has not been established that she thereby lacks the capacity to make a decision about surgery for herself. On the contrary, the evidence establishes that she does have capacity to decide whether to undergo an amputation of whatever kind. She now appears to be open to having the below-knee operation that the doctors recommend. Whether she has it will be a matter for her to decide for herself with the support of those around her.

Deprivation of liberty and Mental Capacity Act – Europe beats Supreme Court to the punch?

The ECHR judgment in MH v UK is out today, even as we all await the Supreme Court deliberations and decision in Cheshire West.

I honestly can’t put it better than Lucy Series does, and if I can send a few people interested in mental capacity / civil liberties over to her sensational blog, I’ll count that as a very good day, so here it is.

 

I’ll give you her opening, to whet your appetite

Whilst 18 barristers fought it out over the Cheshire case in the Supreme Court this week, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed down a judgment which could have equally dramatic consequences for the Mental Capacity Act 2005 deprivation of liberty safeguards (MCA DoLS): MH v UK.  MH v UK confirmed what I have suspected for a long time, that the DoLS fall short of the requirements of Article 5(4) ECHR – the right to ‘take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful’.  The key issue is that without the assistance of a third party a person detained under the DoLS is unable (in practice) to be able to exercise their right of appeal, but there is no failsafe means by which the DoLS guarantee the requisite support.  In essence, there may be duties upon various entities to assist a person in exercising their right of appeal under the DoLS, arising via the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA).  But it is not entirely clear who, and few people – at present – are interpreting them in that way.  The million dollar question is – how do we respond to this?

 

http://thesmallplaces.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/mh-v-uk-implications-for-deprivation-of.html

 

Her beginners guide to Cheshire West is also very good

 

http://thesmallplaces.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/the-cheshire-case-beginners-guide.html

 

(See folks, this is what law writing actually looks like when it is done properly rather than my sarcasm and cut-and-paste.  Even if you aren’t involved in adult social care law, Lucy’s stuff is good for the brain)

Capacity to consent to sexual intercourse

Another useful case on this issue from Baker J sitting in the Court of Protection.

A Local Authority v TZ  2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/COP/2013/2322.html

There are a few unusual features of this case – firstly that the Local Authority and the Official Solicitor representing TZ were in agreement that TZ DID have capacity to consent to sexual intercourse and it was the expert who was not, thus leading to the need for a Judge to make the determination.

Secondly, as illustrated very neatly by Baker J, there is the potential line of conflict between authorities decided in the Court of Protection and authorities decided in the Supreme Court, as to whether capacity to consent to sexual intercourse was merely ‘act specific’  (as the Court of Protection have said) or whether it is ‘act and person specific’  (as Baroness Hale said in R v Cooper 2009 which was a criminal prosecution)

  1. How is a court to determine capacity to consent to sexual relations? It is well established that capacity to marry is to be assessed in general and as a matter of principle and not by reference to any particular proposed marriage: see the decision of Munby J (as he then was) in Sheffield City Council v E [2005] Fam 326, approved by the Court of Appeal in the PC case (supra) at paragraph 23 of McFarlane LJ’s judgment. It is act specific and status specific rather than person specific or spouse specific. In a further case, Local Authority X v MM [2007] EWHC 2003 (Fam), hereafter referred to as ‘MM‘, Munby J adopted the same approach to capacity to consent to sexual relations, holding that it, too, is act specific rather than person specific. At paragraph 86 Munby J said:

“The question [capacity to consent to sexual relations] is issue specific, both in the general sense and…in a sense that capacity has to be assessed in relation to the particular kind of sexual activity in question. But capacity to consent to sexual relations is, in my judgment, a question directed to the nature of the activity rather than to the identity of the sexual partner.”

 

  1. This approach was, however, disapproved by Baroness Hale of Richmond in R v Cooper [2009] UKHL 42 [2009] 1 WLR 1786 in the context of a criminal prosecution for an offence of sexual activity with a person with a mental disorder impeding choice, contrary to the Sexual Offences Act 2003. In paragraph 27 of her speech in that case, Baroness Hale observed:

“My Lords, it is difficult to think of an activity which is more person-and situation-specific than sexual relations. One does not consent to sex in general. One consents to this act of sex with this person at this time and in this place. Autonomy entails the freedom and the capacity to make a choice of whether or not to do so. This is entirely consistent with the respect for autonomy in matters of private life which is guaranteed by article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The object of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was to get away from the previous ‘status’ – based approach which assumed that all ‘defectives’ lacked capacity, and thus denied them the possibility of making autonomous choices, while failing to protect those whose mental disorder deprived them of autonomy in other ways.”

Mostyn J grappled with this tension in D Borough Council v AB 2011

  1. In D Borough Council v AB [2011] EWHC 101 (Fam), [2011] COPLR Con Vol 313, [2011] 2 FLR 72, a case involving a man with a moderate learning disability, whom the judge referred to as ‘Alan’, Mostyn J grasped the nettle of addressing the conflict between Munby J’s decision in MM, a case that pre-dated the Mental Capacity Act, and Baroness Hale’s observations in R v Cooper, a Supreme Court case that post-dated the Mental Capacity Act but were made in the context of a case involving a different statutory provision. Mostyn J came down firmly on the side of Munby J’s approach. Having acknowledged the correctness of Baroness Hale’s observation quoted above that ‘it is difficult to think of an activity that is more person-and situation-specific than sexual relations’, he added (paragraph 35):

“but the same is true (if not truer) of marriage. But it does not follow that capacity to marry is spouse-as opposed to status- specific. Far from it. I do think, with the greatest possible respect, that there has been a conflation of capacity to consent to sex and the exercise of that capacity. There is also a very considerable practical problem in allowing a partner-specific dimension into the test. Consider this case. Is the local authority supposed to vet every proposed sexual partner of Alan to gauge if Alan has the capacity to consent to sex with him or her?”

And Baker J notes that there is the possibility of the Court of Protection line coming into difficulties if a case ever goes to the Supreme Court, but concludes that in this case   (particularly since what TZ intended was to embark on sexual relationships with persons he considered suitable in the future who he had not yet met, rather than with a single known partner) it was more proportionate to look at whether TZ had capacity on an ‘act specific’ way, rather than whether he had capacity to consent to sex with particular individuals.

I can see merit on both sides – if for example, a person with difficulties was in a relationship with a partner who was very alive to his issues and very skilled in explaining things to the person and had no intention of taking advantage of them, that might require slightly less capacity than a partner with very different approach and morals. I think that on the issue of intrusion, however, Baker J was right.

The next interesting aspect is the three-tier test of capacity to consent to sexual intercourse as devised by Munby J and endorsed by Mostyn J in D Borough Council v AB 2011

  1. 27.   “I therefore conclude that the capacity consent to sex remains act-specific and requires an understanding and awareness of: the mechanics of the act; that there are health risks involved, particularly the acquisition of sexually transmitted and sexually transmissable infections; that sex between a man and a woman may result in the woman becoming pregnant.”

 

There has been speculation, including within judgments as to whether all three elements are applicable where there is no risk of pregnancy (particularly with regard to a homosexual relationship)

The issue arose specifically in this case, as TZ’s sexual orientation was homosexual, and he wished to have sex with men, rather than women.

I believe that this is the first time that the Court of Protection have decided the issue, rather than simply speculated about it. So, this is the key passage

  1. I therefore conclude that in the case of a person in respect of whom it is clearly established that he or she is homosexual – gay or lesbian – it is ordinarily unnecessary to establish that the person has an understanding or awareness that sexual activity between a man and a woman may result in pregnancy.
  1. Having said that, it goes without saying that human sexuality is profound and complex and there are many people, such as Alan in D Borough Council v AB and indeed TZ in the current case, who have, at times, been attracted to both men and women. In those circumstances, it will be necessary to establish an understanding and awareness of the fact that sex between a man and a woman may result in pregnancy as part of the assessment of capacity to consent to sexual relations.

Having established the appropriate test (did TZ understand the mechanical action and the health risks?) the Judge then considered whether TZ met that test

  1. TZ spoke frankly about his own sexuality. He said that he had come out as gay about a year ago. Before that, he had been a bit confused but now was not. There are some reports in the local authority records suggesting that he may have been attracted to women at one stage since he moved into H Home. TZ was clear that this was no longer the case. “I’m not attracted to women at all, just men.” He said that it was important to be friends first with someone before moving onto a sexual relationship. Asked what he would get out of such a relationship, he identified sexual pleasure, but also thought it was important “to be happy and healthy, not be abused, and not be let down”. It seemed to me that he was referring back to unhappy experiences in previous relationships. “It’s not just the sex, it’s about being happy and safe and secure in the relationship.”
  1. TZ described in simple terms the physical acts of sex both between a man and a woman and between two men. He indicated that he understood that, “if men and women have sex, the woman can get pregnant”. He knew that a man cannot become pregnant. He was aware of the health risks from sexual activity, and listed the names of several sexually transmitted diseases. He said that the way of avoiding catching any of these diseases was to use a condom. He said that he knew there was a risk of the condom splitting, and in those circumstances he would get himself tested. He has been tested twice before for HIV. On each occasion, the test was negative.
  1. He said that he would like to have the opportunity to meet a man, by going to places such as gay bars. He said that he had learned to take his time because “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. He said he would rather not rush things, but would rather wait to see if he could trust the man. He would not have sex on a first encounter but would wait until he knew the man a little better. “Sometimes it’s easy to make the right choice, sometimes it isn’t, but I would try to make the right choice.”

The expert’s view seemed to be that TZ did not meet the test because he was not able to use and weigh information before making a decision in relation to sexual intercourse and did not have an understanding of the emotional consequences involved.

The Judge rejected that argument.

  1. It seems to me, with respect, that Dr. X is making a similar error as that made by the expert in D Borough Council v AB when he stipulates that the ability to use and weigh relevant information before consenting to sexual relations involves “a complex analysis of risks and benefits often in the abstract and hypothetical”. In D Borough Council v AB, the expert suggested that one essential ingredient of capacity to consent to sexual relations was “an awareness that sex is part of having relations with people and may have emotional consequences”. Mostyn J observed in response (at paragraph 37):

“This criterion is much too sophisticated to be included in the low level of understanding and intelligence needed to be able to consent to sex. Apart from anything else, I would have thought that a great deal of sex takes place where one party or the other is wholly oblivious to this supposed necessity.”

  1. Most people faced with the decision whether or not to have sex do not embark on a process of weighing up complex, abstract or hypothetical information. I accept the submission on behalf of the Official Solicitor that the weighing up of the relevant information should be seen as a relatively straightforward decision balancing the risks of ill health (and possible pregnancy if the relations are heterosexual) with pleasure, sexual and emotional brought about by intimacy. There is a danger that the imposition of a higher standard for capacity may discriminate against people with a mental impairment.
  1. In any event, I am satisfied in this case, having spoken to TZ myself, that he does have an understanding of the need to weigh up the emotional consequences of having sexual relations. This was evident to me from his comment that he would rather not rush things, but would rather wait to see if he could trust the man and by his observation that “sometimes it’s easy to make the right choice, sometimes it isn’t, but I would try to make the right choice.” This insight seemed to me to be well above the level of “rudimentary” ability required.
  1. Overall, I find that TZ does have the capacity to use and weigh the information to the degree required for capacity to consent to sexual relations. I think he has been significantly helped in that regard by the sensitive programme of sex education he has received. Like most people, he may behave impulsively at some point in the future, and in his case that tendency may be accentuated by his ADHD, but I do not consider that this tendency means that he lacks the ability to use and weigh the relevant information.
  1. I therefore declare that TZ has the capacity to consent to and engage in sexual relations

Removal of a vulnerable adult from his home

The decision of the Court of Protection in Re A Local Authority v WMA 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/COP/2013/2580.html

This is not, I think, a development in the law, but it is a recent decision by the Court of Protection which authorised the removal of a vulnerable adult WMA from his home, authorised the LA to go into his home and remove him, authorised him to be placed somewhere he didn’t want to go, authorised a deprivation of his liberty and authorised if necessary the police to go into his home and remove WMA, all on the basis that this was in his best interests, WMA lacking capacity to make such decisions for himself.   It therefore raises interesting talking points.

What orders are necessary? I find that these are: a power for the local authority to enter the home if necessary; a power to the police to restrain WMA if necessary; an order that WMA be removed from his current home and taken to B where the local authority will have power to retain him if needs be; and the local authority will have the power, of course, in addition, to sign the tenancy agreement on his behalf. These measures are proportionate and necessary.

As such, it is a powerful reminder of the powers that the Court of Protection have; the impact such powers can have on vulnerable individuals and additionally a useful summary of the factors to be balanced and tests to be applied.

I have to say that my own take on the case (which is not that important, but I’ll give it) is that I felt WMA’s wishes were somewhat marginalised and that the case was substantially more finely balanced than it might appear from reading the judgment. I probably would have authorised WMA’s removal, if all efforts to improve things for him at home had failed, but I would have found it more difficult to do so.

  1. The case concerns the future of a twenty five year old man, WMA, and where he should live plus what help should be given to him. It raises complex issues about best interests and deprivation of liberty.
  1. WMA suffers from an autistic spectrum disorder. Although it is possible to have a conversation with him about his clearly expressed views, it is plain, and agreed by even his mother MA, that he lacks capacity in some important aspects to which I shall come. He has been diagnosed in these proceedings as having atypical autism and a pervasive development disorder. He presents with unpredictable behaviour on occasion.
  1. He leads an isolated and insular life with MA, who has also sight and mobility problems of her own. The local authority is concerned about the impact of isolation on WMA’s long term development and its social work team has reluctantly come to the conclusion that he needs to be moved into supported living accommodation, despite the difficulty of the initial move, because in the long term this will help WMA and MA to develop a more healthy relationship. It is argued that there is currently an unhealthy degree of interdependence. The local authority alleges too that MA is unable to care for WMA properly, she is likely to be harming his development and it is against his best interests to remain with her.

 

 

Part of the problem in the case was that although WMA wanted to be with his mother, MA; professionals felt that MA was (a) holding him back and impairing the progress and development that he could make and (b) not able to actually care for him, to the point where the home conditions were described as both ‘squalid’ and the sort of home conditions that would lead a child to be removed for neglect.  MA did herself no favours by the way she participated in the hearing, one has to say.

The LA put the case like this

 

  1. 67.   “It is my professional view that WMA is a twenty three year old man with the potential to lead a more fulfilling life. I am also of the view that MA is not deliberately abusive to him but rather has needs of her own that have not been assessed but which impact upon her ability to care for WMA effectively and to manage her own living environment. I think she is not aware that her behaviour towards him is abusive. She has little expectations of him and there is evidence of the frustration she experiences from undertaking his care, shouting at him, preventing him from leaving the property. MA has stated on many occasions she does not want local authority involvement with the family, blaming them for the lack of diagnosis of WMA as a child. She has been found to be neglectful through safeguarding adults procedures. I am concerned that WMA has been treated in an inhumane and degrading manner by MA and that his true potential has been unrecognised and stifled. In order for him to live safely and towards a more fulfilling life I think he should move on to supported accommodation whilst continuing to have contact with his mother.”

The first issue in the case, where WMA had capacity to make decisions for himself, was fairly straightforward. (I did note with some surprise that WMA’s IQ was assessed at being 64, rather higher than one might have believed reading some of the descriptions of him, but of course with autistic spectrum disorder IQ itself isn’t the only measure of capacity)

  1. WMA’s significantly learning disability as a result of his autism meet the criteria of section 2 for he has an impairment of functioning of the mind or brain. Dr. Carpenter has made this quite clear. Even MA has doubts as to his capacity and considers him less capable than others of achieving in this life.
  1. In addition, WMA clearly meets the functional tests in section 3. He cannot use all relevant information relevant to a decision as part of the process of making a decision. This test is decision specific but I am satisfied that WMA cannot make decisions as to his residence, his care plan and his contact with his mother. Of course, WMA has sufficient capacity to decide what he wants to eat but he cannot cope with concepts or make sensible plans as to where to live. In addition, he cannot cope with or even contemplate change, save with assistance.
  1. This, too, is confirmed by Dr. Carpenter who made it clear to me that this is not a borderline case as to capacity. He counselled against believing that WMA has near capacity simply because of his verbal abilities. That view of the functional test was echoed in the evidence of Mr. McKinstrie, the independent social worker, and the views of the social workers who gave evidence.
  1. Accordingly, I have concluded WMA cannot use or weigh the factors as to where he should live. His view that he should remain living with his mother is a decision he is incapable of making. He cannot weigh up all the considerations. Alongside that fundamental issue he cannot decide what care package is suitable for him or, indeed, what contact if away from MA he should have with her.

Having established that WMA lacked capacity, the Court then had to go on to consider what was in his best interests, taking into account all of the factors set out in the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

The Court made the following factual findings

  1. I make the following findings.
  1. First, the local authority social workers have been unable and will be unable to provide appropriate care for WMA and monitor it because of his refusal to accept it and because of MA’s inconsistence and erratic interference with the local authority help.
  1. Second, there is a worrying history about MA’s care for WMA that shows no sign of abating.
  1. Third, that the local authority has made special efforts over the last eighteen months to engage fully with both of them but there has been an unacceptable degree of conflict. I am not persuaded the local authority could have done any more and I have noted with concern the helpful evidence of CG that she has felt under threat recently.
  1. Fourthly, WMA lives an isolated lifestyle and is expected often to be in mother’s eyes and ears. His relationship with her, however, is a frustrated one and there is clear evidence on mother’s case alone that he is, at times, beyond control.
  1. Fifthly, the isolation is such that WMA just does not go out with any with any regularity. Dog walking and shopping appear to be virtually the limit of his outdoor activities with the exception of the few outings that were organised by Delos who he now rejects. As long ago as February 2012 he could not recall when he last went out anywhere.
  1. Sixthly, the home of MA and WMA continues to be kept to a very low standard of cleanliness and, whilst it is not for the court to impose respectable middle class standards of care, nonetheless, the home’s condition has on occasion deteriorated. The recent evidence of CG, for example, that the fridge is kept to a low standard of cleanliness is very concerning. True enough, this has not yet made WMA ill but I am sure that it will one day,
  1. Seventhly, there is a plain history of neglect of WMA by his mother. She does not keep him sufficiently safe or clean or his clothes sufficiently clean to an acceptable standard. The clear point is that MA’s standards are not simply lower than the norm, they are below a good enough standard.

It is important to note that the ‘safeguarding concerns’ were not the test – they were a factor to be weighed in the best interests decision, but it was not a simple matter, as the Official Solicitor suggested the LA had put it of safeguarding concerns being the focus of the Court.  The Official Solicitor also raised on behalf of WMA that the case might well be social engineering. It was not right to move WMA simply because he might DO BETTER in a setting away from his mother   (this is a well-established principle in care proceedings), it had to be a decision taken in the round, for his best interests.

There was an interesting debate about what the starting-point is in such cases (i.e does one START with the position that WMA ought to be at home where he wants to be, or START with a blank sheet of paper?  In care proceedings, of course, the Court STARTS with the proposition that it is better for a child to be at home with his parents and has to have compelling evidence to move away from that proposition)

Not so in Court of Protection cases.

  1. I quote from another part of the K v LBX case [2012] EWCA (Civ) 79 not cited by Mr. O’Brien. In discussing whether or not the court would start from placing the person concerned with their family, Black LJ said this:

“A prescribed starting point risks deflecting the decision maker’s attention from one aspect of Article 8, private life, by focusing his attention on another, family life. In its wider form incorporating reference to both private and family life, there is a danger it contains within it an inherent conflict for elements of private life, such as the right to personal development and the right to establish relationships with other human beings in the outside world may not always be entirely compatible with the existing family life in the sense of continuing to live within the existing family home.”

It is a difficult tension here – once a person lacks capacity, there is no “Threshold criteria” no test of harm that has to be crossed by the State to justify their removal from their family home; the Court just has to consider whether it would be in WMA’s best interests to be so moved.

Of course, the law is intended to protect vulnerable people who prior to the MCA 2005 would have been left alone to live in squalid conditions with their needs not being met unless the person met the criteria under the Mental Health Act for detention or Guardianship (or the little-used powers under community care legislation)

National Assistance Act 1948

s47 Removal to suitable premises of persons in need of care and attention.

(1)The following provisions of this section shall have effect for the purposes of securing the necessary care and attention for persons who—

(a)are suffering from grave chronic disease or, being aged, infirm or physically incapacitated, are living in insanitary conditions, and

(b)are unable to devote to themselves, and are not receiving from other persons, proper care and attention.

 

Which made provision for an application to be made to Court and an order authorising the removal.  I’m not sure how often that was ever used, but one can see that there is something of a test in there (and a pretty high one), rather than the generic principle now that a person lacking capacity can be removed from their family if the Court of Protection consider it is in their best interests.

There are no police powers to remove a vulnerable adult from a home where they are felt to be at risk, and the criminal offence of neglecting a vulnerable adult whom you are caring for only came about with s44 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

On the other hand, this leaves a vulnerable group of adults, those lacking capacity, as being those for whom the Court of Protection can make wide-ranging decisions about what is in their best interests. One hopes, of course, that the Court of Protection makes what one would objectively consider to be in the best interests of the vulnerable adult, but there is this obvious tension between what the State might consider to be in the best interests of the adult, and what the adult and their friends and family might consider to be in the adults best interests.

The Mental Capacity Act of course came about to fill a gap in the law, the “Bournewood gap” where a person who lacked capacity to declare that they wanted to leave a residential unit ended up remaining there with his carers being unable to challenge that decision or remove him, and the case had to go all the way to Europe.

We are still in relatively early days of the Court of Protection and the working of the MCA in practice, but a case like this does point up how even when a Judge carefully analyses and balances all of the competing factors, the exercise of a “best interests” decision can completely turn WMA’s life upside down, and unless his capacity to make decisions changes, such a decision will be very hard to reverse or challenge for WMA in the future.

It could be argued, and is being by many who come across the MCA, that the solution is becoming worse than the problem. It is very hard not to be paternalistic when operating the best interests decision.  (for me, in this one, the chronic neglect and home conditions probably just tip the balance, when combined with the long-standing unsuccessful attempts to resolve this, but if they do tip the balance, it is only just, and I might well have gone on to find that the article 8 right to private and family life trumped it).  It does seem to me a little odd that there’s no presumption in the MCA that the vulnerable person’s family are better placed to make a decision for what is in their best interests unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary.

Capacity and Vasectomy

The decision in Re DE  2013 , and issues arising from this

 

http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/de-judgment-16082013.pdf

 

I will start by saying that this is obviously a controversial judgment, dealing with the State intervening in the private life of an individual, and the Court authorising the sterilisation of a man who did not have capacity to agree to such an operation.

 

I actually think that the judgment was very fair and well-balanced and carefully looked at the need to respect DE’s rights and interests, and did not smack of the patrician attitude or eugenic approach that one might think going by some of the media reporting. I only have one real critique of it, but it is an important one.  There are some really good articles analysing this decision, in both a critical and supportive tone, and it is a thought-provoking issue.

 

This was a Court of Protection decision, dealing with the application by the NHS for the following three declarations

 

a) DE does not have capacity to make a decision on whether or not to undergo a vasectomy and to consent to this procedure;

b) That it is lawful and in DE’s best interests that he should undergo a vasectomy;

c) It is lawful for the NHS Trust to take any steps which are medically advised by the treating clinicians at the trust responsible for DE’s care to undertake this procedure which may include the use of a general anaesthetic and all such steps as may be necessary to arrange and undertake the procedure including general anaesthesia.

 

 

 

 

The Court went on to note what made the declarations sought newsworthy (and indeed the case made national news)

 

            If the declarations sought are made it will, the court is told by the Official Solicitor, be the first time that a court in this jurisdiction has made orders permitting the sterilisation for non therapeutic reasons of a male unable to consent to such a procedure.

 

 

 

There was quite a well-balanced piece on this in the Guardian, for example

 

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2013/aug/16/court-sterilisation-man-learning-difficulties

 

It is important to note at an early stage, that if DE had capacity to make decisions for himself (and the Mental Capacity Act 2005 has as a starting point that people DO have such capacity unless demonstrated otherwise) then the Court have no real role in matters save for determining whether he does or does not have capacity. 

 

People get to make decisions for themselves, unless the Court declare that they don’t have capacity to make that decision; and in broad terms the capacity means that with help and guidance the person can understand the competing factors involved, can weigh up those factors, and can communicate their decision.  (It is REALLY important to understand that a person with capacity can still make what appear to be really stupid or bad decisions; capacity isn’t about people making logical decisions but that they understand  (a) that there are factors to take into account and what those factors are (b) that they should weigh up those factors and are capable of doing so and (c) can communicate their decision afterwards. The law doesn’t, or shouldn’t, interfere with people making foolish decisions, only with people who don’t have capacity to make a decision)

 

If he has capacity, the operation will only take place if both he and the doctors agree to it.  It irked me considerably how many of the reports of the case by the media made reference to DE “agreeing to the vasectomy” – if he had capacity to agree to it, the decision wouldn’t have been made by a Court, what he had were wishes and feelings about it which fell short of capacity to make the decision. Those are important to take into account in the stage AFTER capacity, which is “what is in this person’s best interests to do next?”

 

 

The history is fairly simple.

 

2. DE suffers from a learning disability. He lives with his parents FG and JK. With the dedication of his parents and the support of his local disability services, DE has prospered and achieved far beyond what may have been expected given his level of disability. Prior to 2009, not only had he achieved a modest measure of autonomy in his day to day life, but he had a long standing and loving relationship with a woman, PQ, who is also learning disabled.

3. In 2009 PQ became pregnant and subsequently had a child XY. The consequences were profound for both families; legitimate concerns that DE may not have capacity to consent to sexual relations meant that protective measures had to be put in place to ensure that DE and PQ were not alone and DE became supervised at all times. DE was clear that he did not want any more children. His relationship nearly broke under the strain but remarkably it has weathered the storm

4. There is no question of DE having the capacity to make decisions as to use of contraception. FG and JK formed the view that the best way, in his interests, to achieve DE’s wish not to have any more children and to restore as much independence as possible to him was by his having a vasectomy.

 

 

Unfortunately for me, I think the key issue is actually the matter dismissed in a single sentence at para 4 (my underlining)

 

I think there were 3 separate issues on which one needs to know if DE had capacity

 

(a)  Can he consent to sex  (if not, contraception not all that important, because the State can’t condone him engaging in sexual intercourse)

 

(b)  Does he have capacity to make decisions about contraception? (if he can, vasectomy only an issue if he DECIDES that he wants to go the vasectomy route)

 

(c)  Does he have capacity to consent to a vasectomy operation?

 

 

A capacity report undertaken in November 2012 concluded that DE did not have capacity to consent to sexual intercourse. That obviously posed significant problems for his relationship with PQ, and what obligations were on the other members of the family to prevent a sexual relationship taking place.

 

(There are some really big issues here about a case where two people with capacity issues love each other and wish to express those feelings physically, although they do not reach the level of understanding the law deems as being able to consent to sexual intercourse. Probably neither has the mens rea needed to commit the offence, but their carers could find themselves in legal difficulty for not having prevented such an offence occurring. Whilst it is VITAL that the law protects people who lack capacity to understand the nature of sex from being exploited by those who do, it seems to interfere profoundly with the private life of two such people in a relationship together. This is a really really tough issue, and I have no idea how one would legislate about it, but I suspect we are not that far off a Court hearing dealing with this specific issue)

 

 

 

The Court made an interim declaration following that report that DE did not have capacity to consent to sexual intercourse and the relevant Local Authority had to convene a safeguarding meeting and come up with a plan to protect DE from unlawful sexual activity.

 

At a hearing on 15 November 2012 in the light of Dr Milnes’ report the court made by consent an interim declaration that DE did not have the capacity to consent to sexual relations. The Local Authority, quite properly and appropriately, thereafter held a Safeguarding Adults’ Conference on 30 November 2012. A Protection Plan was put in place meaning that DE and PQ were not to be left alone without supervision. Inevitably this had a significant impact on all DE’s activities, for example transport home being provided instead of DE getting the bus to avoid chance meetings with PQ. MB summarised the impact on DE as having experienced the loss of:

a) Engaging without supervision/staff support, with the local community

b) Walking through town from one venue to another with a friend

c) Going to shops, making purchases, interacting with traders and passers by

d) Using the local gym and facilities on the same terms as any other participant

and that is before one factors in the loss to DE of any form of privacy or time on his own with his long term girlfriend.

At about this time PQ ended the relationship with DE to his considerable distress. At the time it was not clear why PQ had decided to do this but, in due course, it was realised that she had wrongly believed that these proceedings in some way related to XY and she thought that if she stayed with DE she might lose her baby. In addition to this fear it had had to be explained to PQ that if she and DE had sexual intercourse she would be committing a criminal offence. It is hardly surprising that, frightened and with a limited ability wholly to understand what was happening, PQ completely withdrew from DE. DE therefore suffered a further loss, namely the loss of PQ between about November and June of 2013.

MB initially felt that DE coped well with the increased supervision and filed a statement to that effect but, as time went on it became clear to her that there was in fact a marked adverse impact upon DE. Gradually his ability to go out and to do things on his own was being lost and by April 2013 there were considerable concerns about DE’s reduced level of independence. It has to be remembered that each achievement on DE’s part takes months if not years to be gained and if not used and reinforced is quickly lost. FG told me that as winter approached last year DE stopped going to the day centre on the bus on his own, she said DE said that it was because it was cold, but Dr Milne felt it may well have been a loss of confidence and fear of doing wrong

 

 

And so one can see that the legitimate desire to protect DE from unlawful sexual intercourse ended up having all sorts of detrimental impacts on his quality of life and independence.

 

Work was undertaken to try to raise DE’s awareness of sexual matters, to lift his understanding to a point where he COULD be judged to have capacity to consent to it, it being plain that DE and PQ wished to be in a relationship and wished physical intimacy to be a part of that.

 

34. The Official Solicitor has felt it necessary, notwithstanding the universal views now expressed by the witnesses, to explore the issue as to DE’s capacity to enter into sexual relations. At the conclusion or the oral evidence in relation to this aspect of the case, the Official Solicitor now accepts that the court should proceed on the basis that DE has capacity to enter into sexual relations. Having read all the reports and heard the evidence I am satisfied that DE has capacity to enter into sexual relationships, although it will be necessary for him to have so called ‘top-up’ sessions to ensure that he remembers how to keep himself safe from sexually transmitted infections and diseases.

            Whilst DE can consent to having a sexual relationship, it is accepted by all parties that he does not have capacity to consent to contraception and will not regain the necessary capacity. It is therefore remains for the court to determine whether or not it is in DE’s best interests to have a vasectomy. In order to carry out the balancing exercise required in order for the court to reach a decision it is necessary for the court to consider in some detail certain aspects of DE’s life and of his views in so far as they can be ascertained.

 

 

 

And then, on ability to consent to the surgical procedure of a vasectomy

 

52    t is agreed that DE lacks the capacity to weigh up the competing arguments for and against having a vasectomy. That is not going to change no matter how dedicated and skilful the work carried out with DE may be. His wishes and feelings in relation to having a vasectomy have rightly been explored. He has been broadly been in favour of the idea although in his most recent session with CH and ZZ on 23 July 2013 and with Dr Milnes, he expressed a view that he would prefer to use condoms. Neither CH nor Dr Milnes think these recent meetings are wholly to be relied upon. On 23 July, DE had just learnt that a very close friend had died and was deeply distressed, in addition, he had just had a session in which the issue of pain immediately following a vasectomy was discussed with DE. CH thought that this may have been the influencing factor. Dr Milnes’ final view is that if it is explained to DE that a vasectomy is foolproof in relation to “no more babies”, but that he might conceive with a condom he would go for the vasectomy.

53    I approach DE’s wishes and feelings in relation to a vasectomy with the utmost caution. DE does not have the capacity to consent to a vasectomy and that must inevitably colour the court’s approach.

 

Going back to my list then, DE had been determined to have capacity to have sexual intercourse, to lack capacity to make a decision about surgery and vasectomy.

 

That left issue number 2 – did he have the capacity to make his own decisions about contraception? If he did, the issue of surgery did not arise (other than that if he ASKED for a vasectomy, the medical professionals knew that he did not have capacity to consent to the operation)

 

What the heck is the test for a person’s capacity in making decisions about contraception? How did the Court establish whether or not DE had it?

 

            35.Whilst DE can consent to having a sexual relationship, it is accepted by all parties that he does not have capacity to consent to contraception and will not regain the necessary capacity. It is therefore remains for the court to determine whether or not it is in DE’s best interests to have a vasectomy. In order to carry out the balancing exercise required in order for the court to reach a decision it is necessary for the court to consider in some detail certain aspects of DE’s life and of his views in so far as they can be ascertained

 

And here

 

            54. In relation to the reported cases on consent to contraception there remains uncertainty as to whether a man needs to understand female contraception as well as male contraception before he is deemed to have capacity. In my judgment DE does not have the capacity to consent to contraception on any level. I therefore do not need to consider the issue and do not propose to comment on how a court, having heard full argument in a case where the issue is relevant, might decide.

 

I’m ever so slightly infuriated by this, if it is possible for such a state to exist.

 

It seems to me that before the Court embark on the best interests decision (which I consider was all done perfectly properly and I can quite see why the decision to declare that the NHS could perform the vasectomy was made) it was VITAL to decide what it was that DE did not have capacity to decide, and what the test for that capacity was.

 

Particularly given that he now had capacity to consent to intercourse, and that his capacity had been raised by intervention to reach that point. The capacity to consent to intercourse involves of course not just an understanding of the mechanics and the physical act, but the consequences of it (including pregnancy and the possibility of STDs)

 

I am struggling quite a bit to see how a person such as DE can be capable of understanding the consequences of sexual intercourse, but not making decisions about what contraceptive action to undertake. And of course, it takes two to tango, as the saying goes, so PQ’s ability to make decisions about contraception would factor into this.

 

[The Court said no in relation to the latter point, for these reasons. 

 

In my judgment the court should not factor into account any contraceptive measure PQ may be taking for two reasons:

i) The evidence is that PQ is unreliable in taking the contraceptive pill and has a phobia of needles so a Depo injection has been discounted.

ii) In the event that the relationship breaks down, it is likely that he will form another relationship. In the group of learning disabled people who form DE’s social circle, it is the norm for there to be relationships within the group; DE is popular and friendly and after 11 years with PQ accustomed to having a girlfriend. Even if PQ was wholly reliable in relation to her own contraceptive care, a future girlfriend may not be so assiduous.

 

I agree on point (i), am not so sure about point (ii)  - it seems to me that this would be a relevant factor in deciding when it arises, and not to fortune tell]

 

It was universally accepted that the decisions about how DE could have sex without producing offspring was something that he could not decide; but in nothing like the detail of the other two capacity decisions.

 

Once the Court accepted that DE did not have the capacity to make decisions about how to manage sex without producing offspring (and all parties accepted that he didn’t), the best interests decision was the next step, and in relation to this, I think the Court’s analysis is faultless from there on out.

 

The Court went on to balance the use of other contraceptives against a vasectomy, and used the reliability of those measures as a key factor; particularly taking into account the abilities and limitations of DE and PQ in reliably and properly undertaking those measures. The Court also went on to consider everything that DE and PQ had expressed about their wish for physical intimacy but not to have another child.

 

It is a very careful balance about what is best for DE, taking into account all of his circumstances and his wishes and feelings, and not putting too much emphasis on any one issue. I think it is a damn good judgment and decision.

 

I am just left a bit unsettled about the key issue – the decision under question was not “should DE have a vasectomy” but “should the State take over DE’s decision-making in relation to contraception”  (and thereafter, what’s better for DE – vasectomy or alternative contraception) and I remain very vague about what the test for capacity in relation to that question was, and why DE was considered not to satisfy it.

 

 

I can’t really blame the Court for not dealing with the issue of capacity to contraception in a more in-depth way, given that all parties accepted DE did not have it and the Judge concluding that she was completely satisfied that DE did not have it.

 

But I am left with a rather nagging feeling that it is hard to imagine that DE had capacity to consent to sex if he lacked capacity to make decisions about contraception  (understanding the potential negative consequences of sexual intercourse surely has to incorporate the persons ability to militiate against such consequences); and that perhaps a DE-focussed decision was made that declaring that he did not have capacity to consent to sex was going to have a massively detrimental impact on his life.

 

Although a declaration that a person can’t consent to an operation doesn’t mean that one progresses inexorably towards the operation being directed – a best interests decision needs to be taken, the same is not true of a consent to sexual intercourse.  Almost any capacity decision is followed by a best interests decision of what is best for the person. Almost any.

 

Save this one. The Court of Protection cannot declare that a person lacks capacity to consent to sexual intercourse, but that nonetheless a sexual relationship continuing or recommencing is in his best interests. Once that declaration is made, sex is off the agenda. And that clearly wasn’t in his best interests.

 

So I have a slight suspicion that there was an element of Judge Fudge on the contraception point, in order that DE and PQ could enjoy their relationship without producing further children (it being clear that neither of them wished to do so, but didn’t have the wherewithal to make sure that didn’t happen).  I am not critical in the slightest if that did happen, I think it was the right call for DE.

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