Northamptonshire NHS Trust v Another 2014
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  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
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.