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Tag Archives: mental capacity act

Court’s power to get an expert report for free

 

Don’t get too excited, this power only works in Court of Protection cases. But it is still pretty cool.   [Unless you work for an NHS Trust, in which case this power is soul-crushingly awful.]

 

Re RS 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/56.html

 

In this case, there was an application for authorisation of  a deprivation of liberty.  The Court directed (on 28th May) that the NHS Trust should prepare a report on capacity.  Days went by, with no report, then weeks, then two months.

 

And then this:-

  1. On 31st July by direct email, the court received a letter on behalf of Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust which, notwithstanding the order of 28th May and the assurance given via LCC to the court on 29th July advised that it was impossible to comply with the order and further that it was inappropriate for the evidence sought to be obtained by way of an order pursuant to Section 49 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
  2. In light of this letter, which I treated, albeit exceedingly late, as an application as provided for in the order of 28th May to set aside or vary the original order.

 

The Trust set out their arguments as to why it was not right that they should prepare a report – in part because taking a doctor away from patients to write a report on someone they barely knew was not terribly in keeping with their job of looking after patients, especially where there was no fee for the report to offset the costs of doing it.

The Trust advanced ten reasons to support their view that it was inappropriate for the required evidence to be obtained by way of Section 49. They were:-

(1) The Trust has no clinical involvement or knowledge of P (other than the information contained in the applicant’s enclosed letter). P is not a patient under the Mental Health Services of the Trust.(2) There appears to be a clear dispute on capacity the outcome of which may have a significant impact on P’s future care and welfare. Such a dispute should properly be resolved by way of a jointly instructed independent court expert. It is not appropriate to seek quasi expert evidence through Section 49.

(3) A Section 49 Report is not a joint instruction and therefore can potentially leave open a dispute in the event that the evidence is not accepted by all parties. We understand that the first Respondent was not in agreement that Section 49 is appropriate.

(4) The Trust’s consultants are not court experts: they do not have the expertise in preparation of Medico Legal reports and should not be expected to do so, particularly where it is not in connection with a patient under their care.

(5) We understand a report in the proceedings has been prepared on a private instruction by Dr Gonzalez (of the Trust). There is a potential conflict of interests in seeking a further report from a consultant of the Trust.

(6) The request was a publicly funded body into proceedings of which it has no involvement.

(7) Complying with the request places a significant and disproportionate burden on limited NHS resources.

(8) A consultant would need to cancel clinics to make time to prepare the report; putting vulnerable patients at risk.

(9) There is no provision for costs of the report in order to enable the Trust to employ locum cover for the report author. The Trust is already under significant pressure to reduce its locum cover.

(10) Even where locum cover can be sourced this can be detrimental to patients if they are not able to see their usual consultant with whom they have built a trusting professional relationship. Consistency of care is an important factor in mental health care and should be maintained wherever possible.

The Trust position was therefore that capacity evidence should be facilitated through the instruction of an independent jointly instructed expert and not through Section 49.

 

 

Can’t this be resolved just by paying a fee?

 

No, the Code of Practice specifically says that there IS no fee payable for a report ordered under s49.

 

 

  1. There are a number of notes to Section 49 contained within the Court of Protection Practice 2015. Specifically one of the notes states

    Fees – there is no provision for fees to be charged for any report requested by the court.

    Reference is also made in the notes to the Court of Protection Rules and in particular Rules 117 and 118 and Practice Direction E (PD14E).

  2. I do not propose to set out Rule 117 in full but will refer to:

    (1) this Rule applies where the court requires a report to be made to it under Section 49 of the Act;(2) it is the duty of the person who is required to make the report to help the court on the matters within his expertise.

 

 

What did the Judge have to say about the Trusts’s arguments?

 

  1. In relation to the specific submissions on behalf of the Trust then I will deal with these briefly:

    (1) While I note the argument there is no such distinction drawn within the powers given in Section 49 and the accompanying Rules or Practice Direction. In my view it would be wrong for the court to undertake such distinction either in the preparation of its orders generally or in this order in particular.(2) The dispute as to capacity has arisen following a report from a consultant psychiatrist dealing with matters pertaining to a lasting power of attorney. There is an existing assessment by a consultant psychiatrist Dr Loosmore and a very experienced social worker. A question has therefore arisen in relation to RS as to the extent or otherwise of her capacity. It is a matter well suited for determination by Section 49 which is a proportionate response as opposed to an instruction to an independent expert. Such direction would have additional funding and cost consequences particularly in the instant case where three of the parties are either publicly funded or public bodies and the fourth is privately paying albeit acting in person. Furthermore a Section 49 Report would [or should at any rate] incur significantly less delay.

    (3) A Section 49 Report is a direction of the court. If a letter of instruction cannot be agreed the court will deal with any such dispute. It was the court’s direction and not that of any specific party.

    (4) The Rules and in particular the Practice Direction are clear as to the contents and format of a report. If that format is followed specific medico legal experience is not required. However, given the significant growth in the volume of work undertaken by the Court of Protection and in particular Section 21A or related challenges, it is no doubt a level of expertise that all consultant psychiatrists particularly dealing with the elderly will acquire if they have not already done so.

    (5) The court can see no potential conflict of interest in another consultant of the Trust preparing a report. Again the duty of the author of the report is fully set out in the Rules and Practice Direction.

    (6) The provisions of Section 49 are clear. There is a wide range in power to direct a report from an NHS body as the court considers appropriate. It is common for Section 49 Reports to be directed in this way.

    (7) The court has sympathy with the effect of its order upon the Trust. However as is noted earlier no provision is made within Section 49 in relation to fees or expenses incurred by the author of the report (be it NHS body, Trust or otherwise). What the court will do is to carefully consider resources and listen to any argument from the Trust particularly in relation to the time for compliance and the scope of the work to be undertaken. That would appear to be both a reasonable and proportionate approach.

    (8) While this is noted the answer to 7 would seem to cover this.

    (9) I have already dealt with this in 7 above.

    (10) As stated above every effort will be made to accommodate the preparation and extent of the report so as to limit wherever possible the disruption in healthcare provided by a consultant to his patients.

  2. It follows, for the reasons given above I am not prepared to vary or alter the principle behind the original order of 28th May. However it must be right that compliance with any order is subject to reasonable adjustment on application by the Trust in relation to the scope and extent of any report ordered and the time for compliance. However such applications must be made promptly and supported by evidence on behalf of the Trust or NHS body.
  3. Finally, this is a difficult and recurring problem and brings into sharp focus the burden upon any Trust or NHS body to comply with such direction while at the same time maintaining the provision of its service to existing patients. The cost of the report is also funded by the Trust. There is no provision within Section 49 for the court to order payment of fees or expenses in that regard. These are matters that ultimately may have to be considered elsewhere. In line with the President’s guidance I propose to publish a suitably anonymised version of this judgment on Bailii.

 

 

In short, you might, as the Trust, be able to plead extenuating circumstances and time pressures and get longer to DO the report, but you have to ask the Court and do so in good time, but you aren’t going to get out of doing it.

 

If you are an NHS accountant /manager/ worker / taxpayer who feels miserable about this, read this fun case where a Husband in divorce proceedings who is claiming that he has no assets at all (due to them all being put into a in a Trust which has subsequently kicked him out and taken them all) also struggles to explain to a Court why he has at the same time entered into an agreement to buy a private jet plane and put a deposit down yet is completely unworried about his ability to pay for the rest of it given that he has no assets, no income and no job.  His courageous answer  is, in effect “I’m such a great businessman, I can make it work”

 

While on the topic of aircraft, I should mention that H shows as an illiquid asset US$250,000 which he has paid as a deposit against the much delayed delivery of a Honda Jet. The balance of the purchase price is US$4m. H expressed no anxiety in his current parlous circumstances (another global economic meltdown apart) in coping with this liability when it falls due. In evidence he said that the latest estimated delivery date was probably the first or second quarter of 2016, and that he had “set up a multi-billion dollar empire with very little capital. It is a question of leverage and investing partners.” Asked whether he regarded operating a single jet as a viable source of income and livelihood he was optimistic describing it as “a big growth area of business especially if you have the latest jet technology.”

 

I don’t know about my readers, but if I had no money in the bank, no income and no job, and for some reason, I had to pay $3.75million for a jet plane in the next year, I’d probably be on the phone to the plane company explaining how, “yeah, it turns out maybe I don’t need the plane so much after all, can I take a rain-check on that? Also, could I get my deposit back?”

 

Note that he also has / or rather had because the Trust, which is not run at all by one of his former friends as a complete device to escape his wife’s financial claims oh no, a fleet of luxury cars including cough “A Ferrari that cost $8.5 million”

“Their position is an elaborate charade, the stage management of which has been conducted ruthlessly and without regard to cost”

 

and

“There is a clear distinction between the question whether a trust can be characterised as sham (which was, as rightly stated, not asserted at the hearing), and the conclusion which I reached that the case collusively advanced by H and TB was a rotten edifice founded on concealment and misrepresentation and therefore a sham, a charade, bogus, spurious and contrived. I do not shrink from applying to it the description fraud, a deliberate design to deceive, inflicted on W and on the court, and found by the court so to be”

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2507.html

Care proceedings can be retrospectively validated

 

Readers might remember the recent case where the President looked at a set of care proceedings where it had not been known at the time that the mother lacked capacity, and the outcome was that the orders were effectively overturned and the proceedings re-wound to the beginning.

 

[Actually, if you remember it, it is because of the bad pun in the title….

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/08/07/re-e-wind-when-the-crowd-say-bo-selecta/   ]

 

 

Here, the Court of Appeal were faced with a very similar issue – the mother in care proceedings conducted them  as though she had capacity and her lawyers fought hard on her behalf, but it turns out that perhaps she didn’t have capacity – at the very least there were two conflicting reports and the Court had not expressly resolved the issue.   She then appealed on that basis, arguing that the Care Order and Placement Order should be overturned and the case re-heard.

 

In this one, though, the Court of Appeal ruled that even though the original proceedings had been flawed, it would not have made any difference to the eventual outcome if she had been represented through the Official Solicitor rather than instructing her solicitor directly, and so the Court of Appeal could retrospectively validate the proceedings and orders.

Hmmm.

Not sure that I agree.   (I agree that the Court of Appeal’s analysis that they HAVE the power is right. Whether it was right to use it, I’m not so sure of. Of the two approaches, I think the one before the President is more in keeping with article 6 and a right to a fair trial. I think that instructing a solicitor involves rather more than just saying “I want to fight” and that the protections for vulnerable persons or Protected Parties are fundamental, and where they’ve been lost even due to honest mistake, that’s a fatal flaw in the process, not something that can be patched up after the event)

 

Re D (Children) 2015

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed146431

 

There were two issues :-

 

  1. Had the original Court process been flawed because it had proceeded on the basis that mother had capacity when she in fact didn’t?
  2. If so, did those flaws amount to an irresistable basis for an appeal, or can the Court retrospectively validate the orders if that seems the right outcome?

 

The mother had been represented through the Official Solicitor in previous care proceedings, so the starting point in these ones was that an updating report on her capacity was sought. However, no doubt to avoid delay and ensure that there wasn’t drift past the 26 week timetable, the expert saw the mother within the first six weeks of giving birth. This is important, as it is no doubt happening in other cases.

The cognitive assessment therefore came with a significant health warning, although it did say that she lacked capacity

 

“The immediate post natal period (under six weeks) tends to be a somewhat volatile period in terms of health and mood. Cognitive tests undertaken during this period are likely to reflect mood variations and difficulties with concentration due to hormonal changes…. In this assessment, therefore I have drawn on the results of SD’s August 2012 assessment together with a brief corroborative assessment conducted on 4 .11.13”

 

That report from Dr Morgan also gave a further health warning, that when one repeats the tests in a short period of time, the results can be skewed.

Those representing the mother sought a further expert opinion, from a Dr Flatman. The Court of Appeal were criticial that the Part 25 procedures on expert assessments were not followed and as a result, mistakes were made.

In any event, Dr Flatman examined the mother and concluded that she DID have capacity to conduct litigation.

 

Here’s the error

 

 At the hearing before the District Judge on 20 January 2014 the District Judge was simply told that:

“there has been a cognitive assessment further filed to say that she does have capacity to give instructions to her legal representatives”.

Dr Morgan’s conflicting report was not brought to the attention of the judge, neither was the fact that Mr Flatman had failed to apply the proper test for assessing capacity. As a consequence no consideration was given as to how to resolve the conflict, whether by additional questions, an experts meeting or by hearing short oral evidence to resolve the issue. Ms Weaver was simply discharged as litigation friend.

41. When the mother came before the judge for the final hearing Ms Weaver attended as the mother’s IMCA and the case proceeded without further consideration as to the mother’s capacity.

 

There were two competing reports and the Court needed to resolve which opinion was correct (bearing in mind the starting point of the Mental Capacity Act is to presume capacity unless there is evidence to the contrary)

 
44. All those who are regularly involved in care proceedings are aware that such a situation is all too common and it is plain to see why issues of capacity are critical to those affected. The starting point for the court is not only that a party has capacity, but that every effort must be made to help a party without capacity to regain it. Only in this way which accords with the statutory principles found in MCA 2005, can a parent feels that his or her case has been presented in accordance with his or her wishes, no matter how unrealistic or unachievable those wishes may be when considered against the yardstick of the welfare of her child in question. On the other hand the MCA 2005 is designed to ensure that those vulnerable adults, who have not got the capacity to conduct litigation on their own behalf, are properly identified and provided with appropriate support and a litigation friend in order to ensure that they not prejudiced within the proceedings as a consequence of their disability.

45. Process is not all and should never, particularly when one is concerned with a child’s future, be slavishly adhered to at the expense of achieving the right welfare outcome for a child without delay. Having said that, I am satisfied that the informal course which was adopted in the present case went far beyond a pragmatic and practical approach to case management and amounted to serious procedural irregularity.

 

The answer to that first question then was, yes, the original process had been flawed.

The analysis of whether the Court has the power to retrospectively validate the flawed process is set out very carefully from paragraphs 46-58, and if you are interested in the nuts and bolts of that, then it is all set out.

In a nutshell, it is this

 
47. FPR 2010 r.15.3 qualifies the general rule that a protected party may only conduct proceedings by a litigation friend. In particular FPR 2010, r.15.3(3) provides:

“(3) Any step taken before a protected friend has a litigation friend has no effect unless the court orders otherwise.”

 

So if the Court orders otherwise, then the Court can proceed even though a person ought to have been treated as a protected party and could only conduct proceedings through a litigation friend.   [Of course, as the Court at first instance DIDN’T do that, since they wrongly decided that she DID have capacity and neglected to take into account that there were conflicting reports, the Court at the time DIDN’T  “order otherwise” under r 15.3]

 

However

 

Bailey v Warren [2006] EWCA Civ 51. Hallett LJ said:

“[95] Within CPR r.21.3 (4) there are no restrictions whatsoever on the court’s discretion to validate steps taken in proceedings before a litigation friend is appointed. A court can regularise the position retrospectively provided, as Kennedy L.J. observed in [31] of Masterman-Lister “everyone has acted in good faith and there has been no manifest disadvantage to the party subsequently found to have been a patient at the time”. He could not envisage any court refusing to regularise the position because “to do otherwise would be unjust and contrary to the over-riding objective ….

[96] It is for the judge to consider all the facts of the case before him, therefore, and where as here, there is no suggestion of bad faith, decide whether or not the compromise is manifestly disadvantageous to the patient”

 

And that was the line that the Court of Appeal took.

 

 

 

55. In the present case it is recognised that the outcome of the case would have been the same regardless of whether the mother had litigation capacity. There was therefore no forensic disadvantage to the mother. Further, thanks to the dedication of Mrs Weaver, there was in reality no difference in the nature and quality of the representation the mother received. Mrs Weaver’s title within the proceedings changed from IMCA to Litigation friend and back to IMCA depending on the current court order, but the manner in which she carried out her role remained the same. It is apparent from the attendance notes that Mrs Weaver, in whatever guise, was not about to agree to the orders sought by the local authority being made; she felt strongly that the mother’s best interests could only be served by the applications for care and placement orders being opposed, I am entirely satisfied that not only would the outcome of the trial have been the same had the mother been found to lack capacity, but that the case would have been conducted in exactly the same way on her behalf.

56. There is no question but that all involved have acted with good faith. In dissecting the progress of this case, as has been necessary in order to consider the important issues before the court, I do not lose sight of day to day life in busy family courts with Counsel and Judges over stretched in every direction. This case does however perhaps provide a cautionary tale and a reminder that issues of capacity are of fundamental importance. The rules providing for the identification of a person, who lacks capacity, reflect society’s proper understanding of the impact on both parent and child of the making of an order which will separate them permanently. It is therefore essential that the evidence which informs the issue of capacity complies with the test found in the MCA 2005 and that any conflict of evidence is brought to the attention of the court and resolved prior to the case progressing further. It is in order to avoid this course causing delay that the PLO anticipates issues of capacity being raised and dealt with in the early stages of the proceedings.

57. SSD is now 20 months old and has been in her adoptive placement for over half her life. Her future needs urgently to be secured. I am satisfied that notwithstanding the procedural failings which led to this court being unable to conclude with any certainty whether the mother was or was not a protected party at the time of the trial, she was not in the end adversely affected and no practical difference was made to the hearing or outcome as a consequence. In those circumstances it is open to this court to validate the proceedings retrospectively and in my judgment that should and will be done.

 

Not being allowed to see an expert report

 

I’ve read this case half-a-dozen times now, and I still don’t entirely get it.

 

NCC v AH and DH 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4845.html

 

Dramatis personae

 

NCC is the Local Authority.   (It isn’t a very cryptic disguise of whom they might be)

AH is a woman, who has some mental health problems and for a time was considered to lack capacity and be a person at risk from :-

 

DH her husband.

 

The application

(a) an application by DH for disclosure to him of any reports and/or letters by Dr. McInerney and the report of Dr. Khouja dated 29th July 2011;

(b) an application by AH for disclosure to her of the said reports and of her Social Services records (it being acknowledged by all parties that she would share them with DH); and

(c) applications by AH and DH for their costs, or a proportion thereof, incurred in both sets of proceedings to be paid by the local authority.

These applications arise from a set of proceedings under the Inherent Jurisdiction and a set of proceedings under the Mental Capacity Act in the Court of Protection.  Both seem to have arisen because AH made allegations about her husband’s behaviour towards her which were believed (but which appear to have been more a result of her mental health problems).   NCC considered that AH was a woman that they owed duties towards, as a result of Re Z (Local Authority: Duty) [2005] 1FLR 740, especially at para.19.

 

In my judgment in a case such as this the local authority incurred the following duties:

i) To investigate the position of a vulnerable adult to consider what was her true position and intention;ii) To consider whether she was legally competent to make and carry out her decision and intention;

iii) To consider whether any other (and if so, what) influence may be operating on her position and intention and to ensure that she has all relevant information and knows all available options;

iv) To consider whether she was legally competent to make and carry out her decision andintention;

v) To consider whether to invoke the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court so that the question of competence could be judicially investigated and determined;

vi) In the event of the adult not being competent, to provide all such assistance as may be reasonably required both to determine and give effect to her best interests;

vii) In the event of the adult being competent to allow her in any lawful way to give effect to her decision although that should not preclude the giving of advice or assistance in accordance with what are perceived to be her best interests;

viii) Where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the commission of a criminal offence may be involved, to draw that to the attention of the police;

ix) In very exceptional circumstances, to invoke the jurisdiction of the court under Section 222 of the 1972 Act

 

 

A psychiatric report was directed in those proceedings, from a Dr McInerney. It appears that within the proceedings, the Official Solicitor (on behalf of AH) and Local Authority, took the view that the Court should take the unusual step of not disclosing that report to DH, on the basis that there were things AH had said about his behaviour which might put her at risk if DH were to see it.  [That’s quite unusual, we’ll come back to it later]

The Official Solicitor and LA also told the Court that they did not rely on Dr McInerney’s report and wanted a second opinion, from a Dr Khouja.  DH  of course, had not seen it, so it was rather hard for him to say whether he did seek to rely on it, or whether a second opinion was necessary.  (One can make an informed guess that if it said things that the LA and OS agreed with, they wouldn’t have been asking for a second opinion, so DH would probably have agreed with what was said)

[It is also worth noting that DH had to pay a share of the costs of Dr McInerney’s report, although he never got to see it or know what it said. He didn’t have to pay a share of the costs of Dr Khouja’s report]

Dr Khouja was directed to file two reports, one on capacity (which DH DID get to see) and one”considering the recent Social Services assessment of AH, and he may also include in that supplementary report, any matter or opinion which he would wish to report upon, but he is of the view should be withheld from DH pending judicial determination of any disclosure issues.”  which DH didn’t get to see.

Dr. Khouja concluded that AH did not lack capacity in respect of any of the matters which he had been instructed to assess. This led to Bodey J’s order of 11th November 2011. By consent, NCC were given permission to withdraw both sets of proceedings. The Official Solicitor was discharged as litigation friend to AH although he remained as an interested party for the purposes of the disclosure application.

 

So, the proceedings were withdrawn, because AH had capacity to make her own decisions about whether she wanted to be with DH or not, and it wasn’t the role of the State to intervene on her behalf.

DH, having gone through all of this and having had to pay for all of his own legal costs, was understandably unhappy, and wanted to make a series of complaints about what had happened.  In order to inform his complaints and no doubt to bolster them, he wanted to see both of the expert reports that had been withheld from him. And he was also asking that some of his costs be paid.

 

Law on non-disclosure

 

The law is that generally, a document filed at Court should be seen by all parties, and the burden is on the party seeking non-disclosure to establish why that general rule should not be followed.

The substantive law is set out in the House of Lords case of Re D (Minors) (Adoption Reports: Confidentiality) [1996] AC 593 [1995] 2 FLR 687. The test is:

“(1) It is a fundamental principle of fairness that a party is entitled to the disclosure of all materials which may be taken into account by the court when reaching a decision adverse to that party…

(2) … the court should first consider whether disclosure of the material would involve a real possibility of significant harm to the child.

(3) If it would, the court should next consider whether the overall interests of the child would benefit from non-disclosure, weighing on the one hand the interest of the child in having the material properly tested, and on the other both the magnitude of the risk that harm will occur and the gravity of the harm if it does occur.

(4) If the court is satisfied that the interests of the child point towards non-disclosure, the next and final step is for the court to weigh that consideration, and its strength in the circumstances of the case, against the interest of the parent or other party in having an opportunity to see and respond to the material. In the latter regard the court should take into account the importance of the material to the issues in the case.

(5) Non-disclosure should be the exception not the rule. The court should be rigorous in its examination of the risk and gravity of the feared harm to the child, and should order non-disclosure only when the case for doing so is compelling.”

[Although Re D here deals with a child, the principles are much the same. The argument was that disclosing to DH an expert report in which AH was presumably making allegations to the expert about abuse might put her at risk.  The counter argument to that is that as a consequence of these proceedings, DH might have to live apart from his wife as a result of such allegations but they were being made in a way that concealed from him what they were.  ]

Moylan J’s judgment does not really deal with this, although to be fair, the decision to not disclose the documents at that earlier stage had already been taken and presumably there is a judgment weighing up those factors at that time.  Instead, he looks at the duty of disclosure being that the documents are disclosed in order to allow a person to participate effectively in the hearing  –  in order to have a fair trial.

  1. Turning now to the legal framework, the expert evidence in this case was obtained for the purposes of these proceedings and pursuant to court orders. The court has power to provide to whom such evidence is to be disclosed and to whom it is not to be disclosed, including a party to the proceedings: see, for example, Re B (Disclosure to Other Parties) [2001] 2 FLR 1017.
  2. The experts overriding duty is to the court. Both proceedings in this case were heard in private. The reports are, therefore, confidential to the court, as described by Sir Nicholas Wall, President, in A County Council v. SB, MA & AA [2011] 1FLR 651. At para.34, he said:

    “In my judgment, ‘confidentiality’ in this context means that the information contained in the papers filed with the court for the purposes of the proceedings is confidential to the court. It is for this reason that, with very few exceptions, the court papers cannot be disclosed to people who are not parties to the proceedings without the court’s permission; and publication outside the proceedings of information relating to the proceedings is in most cases a contempt of court unless permission for it has first been given by the court”.

  3. As a result of being confidential to the court, and to the proceedings, a report cannot be used by any party for any collateral purpose or purpose unconnected with the proceedings without permission from the court. There are a significant number of cases which address the factors which the court will take into account when deciding whether to give such permission.
    1. Turning now to disclosure, the general rule is that a party is entitled to the disclosure of all evidence which any party proposes to adduce to the court. As Lord Dyson said in Al Rawi & Ors. v. The Security Service & Ors. (Justice & Ors. Intervening) [2012] 1 AC 531, at para.12:
      1. “Trials are conducted on the basis of the principle of natural justice. There are a number of strands to this. A party has a right to know the case against him and the evidence on which it is based. He is entitled to have the opportunity to respond to any such evidence and to any submissions made by the other side. The other side may not advance contentions or adduce evidence of which he is kept in ignorance”.
    2. It can be seen from this passage that disclosure is made for the purposes of the proceedings and to ensure that any trial is fair.

 

But of course we know that during the proceedings, those documents were kept from DH. There were allegations being made about him that he was kept in the dark about.  When it emerged that AH had capacity, and wanted to remain in a relationship with DH, the proceedings were withdrawn.

Should he now be entitled to see those reports?   (after all, they are about AH, and she has capacity to say whether she wants him to have them – and she does)

  1. Given the determination of the substantive proceedings, I can identify no grounds on which disclosure of the reports should be ordered. They were prepared for the purposes of the proceedings. They were not disclosed to DH and AH pursuant to orders made during the course of those proceedings. There is no freestanding entitlement to disclosure once proceedings have concluded. Disclosure is part of the process by which the court ensures that a fair trial is effected. It is self-evident that, following the determination of proceedings, disclosure of evidence is no longer required for the purposes of the proceedings or in order to effect a fair trial.
  2. It is self-evident in this case that disclosure can no longer be sought for the purposes referred to in DH’s Solicitor’s letter of 18th March 2010, namely to enable the evidence to be tested within the proceedings. Rather, disclosure is sought by DH and AH for collateral purposes, namely to challenge, what they refer to as, the “toxic” comments in the reports. This, they contend, is necessary to enable them to clear their names. They also want to report Dr. McInerney to the GMC, and possibly to take libel proceedings.
  3. None of these appear to me to provide, in the circumstances of this case, any ground for ordering disclosure. I cannot envisage any court giving permission to DH and/or AH to use the reports for the purposes of any such step. Now that the proceedings are at an end, there is no justification in seeking to challenge the contents of reports prepared for, and only for, the proceedings. I can, therefore, see no basis on which DH and/or AH could now successfully seek to challenge the orders made during the course of the proceedings.

 

That seems to me to be a rather curious way of looking at things. It ought not to matter what DH wants to do with the documents, and whether you think he ought not to do it. This was a report about AH, and we now know that she has capacity to decide for herself whether she wants it to remain confidential or whether she wants her husband to see it, and she does.  I can see that the Court approach is to draw a line under the proceedings and for everyone to move on and forget the whole thing, but once AH has capacity, she is no longer a vulnerable person who needs the protection of the Court. The decision not to disclose the reports at the time were taken in the context that it was believed that she lacked capacity and needed that protection.

The next bit is even more suprising.

Finally, given the clear risk of satellite litigation, I propose to order that neither the Official Solicitor nor the solicitors instructed by the Official Solicitor should disclose the non-disclosed documents or the Social Services records, insofar as they have them, to AH. If this were to happen, it would undermine the effect of my judgment and proposed order.

 

Well, it makes sense. The Court order could easily be circumvented by a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 1998, for disclosure of the records that are held about AH and DH.  This is, however, the Court making an order that a Local Authority need not comply with their statutory obligations under primary legislation if a request were made.  Not only that, it is an order about primary legislation where the first port of call in a dispute or challenge is not actually the Court but to the Information Commissioner.  Does the Court even have jurisdiction to do this?

 

[Well, of course the answer to that is going to be that the original application was under the inherent jurisdiction, and we can all chant the answer “the powers are theoretically limitless”]

 

I can’t actually establish under the DPA what section you would use to refuse a section 7 request.  It doesn’t fit any of the non-disclosure provisions in Schedule 7 of the Act.

 

My best argument would be that in making that order, the Court has effectively determined (though without giving a judgment as to why) that this is satisfied

The Data Protection (Subject Access Modification) (Social Work) Order

2000:

this provides that personal data held for the purposes of social work

are exempt from the subject access provisions, where the disclosure to the

data subject would be likely to prejudice the carrying out of social work, by

causing serious harm to the physical or mental health, or condition, of the

data subject, or another person.

 

For law geeks, there’s a really obvious way of getting the reports, but obviously it would be wrong of me to spell it out here.

 

You won’t be surprised, having read the rest of this, that Moylan J didn’t allow the application by DH for costs.

 

  1. Turning next to the issue of costs, I am satisfied on the evidence that AH was given no assurance that her costs prior to the appointment of the Official Solicitor would be paid. I accept the evidence of Ms. Hardman and Mrs. Ord to that effect, which is supported by the records produced from AH’s own solicitors. Additionally, AH herself says that she was not in a fit state at the relevant time and was not taking things in.
  2. Secondly, in respect of proceedings in the Court of Protection, I can identify no justification for departing from the general rule that there should be no order as to costs. There is nothing in NCC’s conduct which would justify my departing from that rule. The proceedings have concluded without any determination. I am satisfied that NCC have acted properly throughout, in accordance with their obligations. There is no point at which they should have decided, as submitted by DH and AH, to discontinue the proceedings earlier than they did, namely following the receipt of Dr. Khouja’s report.
  3. I am also not persuaded that I should make any separate order in respect of Dr. Khouja’s costs. These were part of the costs of the proceedings to which the general rule applies.
  4. Thirdly, in respect of the costs of the proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction, I am also persuaded that NCC acted properly throughout in bringing the proceedings, in that, in so doing, they were acting in accordance with their obligations in respect of vulnerable adults. As the letter from DH’s solicitor dated 18th March 2010 makes clear, it was accepted that AH had said things to social workers which would lead professionals to have concerns. The letter specifically states that:

    “Our client accepts that the premise of the proceedings is that the local authority believes that his wife’s descriptions of how he has treated her may be true”.

    I can identify no point at which NCC should have decided to discontinue those proceedings earlier than when they did.

 

Thus DH had to pay for legal representation, in order for NCC to go to Court and argue that his wife lacked capacity and needed protecting from him, even though it turned out in the end that she didn’t, and had to pay for a share of an expert report (which probably would have helped his case if he’d seen it) which he wasn’t allowed to see and will never see. The whole of this case was based on allegations which he hasn’t seen and none of which were proved.

 

This one is probably far too legally complex for our friend over at the Telegraph, but it certainly is one that might warrant the “Kafka-esque” label that he routinely affixes to cases.

Video-recording (life and death)

We’ve been having a lively debate about whether or not parents should be able to record their interactions with professionals, and there’s a piece over at the Guardian about it  http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jun/17/social-workers-under-scrutiny-parents-camera

 

I’ve today come across a Court of Protection case, decided by Newton J.

 

St Georges NHS Healthcare Trust and P 2015

Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWCOP 42

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/cop_khan_26.6.15.pdf

 

[There is also a Reporting Restriction Order in place, meaning that the family or patient should not be named. I had been nervous about the link above having a surname in it, but on making enquiries I’m reassured that it refers to one of the doctors involved, not the family surname]

 

This case involved a very ill man who had had a heart attack and due to a long period of time before being revived suffered hypoxic brain damage. There was agreement that if he had another cardiac arrest he should not be resuscitated.

The hospital had applied to Court for a declaration that they be allowed to withdraw treatment (renal replacement therapy) which would have the impact of causing the man to die. The family were opposed to this and were arguing that the man was showing signs of consciousness.  They were saying that he was in a Minimally Conscious State (MCS) and thus he could, though on a very low level, show some responses. The hospital opinion was otherwise and that the man had no responsiveness and thus no quality of life.

The bit of relevance for us is here:-

The family have always properly and steadfastly maintained and argued their position. But for their politely and cogently articulated stance, it may well have been that renal replacement therapy would have been stopped, and P would already no longer be alive. They endeavoured to support their efforts by the taking of video recordings of occasions when they said that P had responded to verbal communication. That position was strongly opposed by the Health Trust who contended concern about the privacy and dignity of other patients and offered the services of the Trust’s medical photographer. Surprisingly the Court was required to make a decision that they were (a) able to do so and (b) could rely in Court on those recordings. In fact those video recordings provided a watershed insight to the proper conclusion in this case. As I say, but for their persistence, and the consequent anxiety of the Official Solicitor I could have so easily concluded on inadequate evidence, as it transpired, a conclusion that would have led to P’s demise.

 

Breaking this down :-

 

A) The family said that they could see signs of response from the man, and the hospital disagreed

B) The family wanted to film the man, so they could prove that he was showing these signs of response

C) The Hospital opposed this, and the Court had to hear argument about it, and decided that the family could film him

D) The film proved what the family were saying, and were vital in the case

E) The man is still alive, because of that filming process

 

You can’t really get a stronger illustration than that.

 

As a result of the Judge seeing the video recordings, he ordered further assessment, that assessment concluded that the man was indeed in a Minimally Conscious State not a persistent vegetative state. Somewhat oddly, that conclusion led to the hospital asking for other treatments to be withdrawn.  (I can’t quite understand this myself, but the case had clearly got quite polarising)

The hearing has lasted five days over a considerably adjourned period, judgment being delivered on the 6th

 It is a very unsatisfactory way of conducting such a hearing. Having seen the very powerful and affecting video recordings of P myself on day 3 it became abundantly clear that further and proper assessment and enquiry was absolutely necessary and essential. As a result Helen Gill-Thwaites, a specialist occupational therapist, continued and carried out the further assessment using the internationally respected assessment process known as SMART. Additionally Mr Derar Badwan, a leading expert in neuro rehabilitation directed the optimum circumstances for that and his own subsequent opinion to be investigated and formulated. Their united opinion and evidence was that at this stage of assessment it was clear, as the family had always contended, that P was in a minimally conscious state. I confess I am very troubled that in apparent response to that expert opinion the Trust’s reaction (without issuing a further application) was to apply to withdraw a whole raft of other treatments. That inexplicable development seemed to me at best to illustrate the widening the gulf between the family and those who were treating P, at best a hardening of mind. That view was fortified further when it subsequently emerged during the course of evidence (when Dr Dewhurst resumed evidence) that Dr Khan, the consultant neurologist responsible for P’s treatment, had recently changed his mind and now considered that P was in a minimally conscious state and had emailed that view to the Trust’s solicitor. All counsel seemed unaware of that development; certainly the Court was, and it is disappointing that this important information should in fact surface in this way. I do not think this represents bad faith but a reflection of the litigation as a whole. As I have already made clear I do not doubt the very great sincerity of the consultants involved in the care of P, but having regard to the Court’s strong presumption in preserving the sanctity of life and of the overarching principle that should be borne in every case with this background it was a surprising development. The law regards the preservation of life as a strong fundamental principle.

 

The Judge describes what nearly happened here (and the absence of the testing process which is recommended in the guidance) as a ‘cataclysmic injustice’.   It is somewhat rare to see the word ‘cataclysmic’ used and to not immediately conclude that the author is  wildly over-stating things.  This is one of those rare occasions when it was in my opinion merited.  [Bracing myself now for my commentator Andrew informing me that it should be confined to natural disasters or large scale tragedies]

This nugget is astonishing – in these cases, the rate of mis-diagnosis (i.e hospitals deciding that a person is NOT in a Minimally Conscious State and getting that wrong ) is 40%. Forty per cent… Of something as vitally important as that.

I have been told in this and in other cases that misdiagnosis (of people who are said to be in a vegetative state but are in truth in a minimally conscious state) occurs in a remarkably high number of cases, the rate of misdiagnosis is said to be some 40%.

 

It is something of a wake-up call – if medical evidence can be wrong about something so vitally important as whether a man would have any awareness if treatment was withdrawn, then we need to be cautious about it when it is something which is less concrete and more speculative  (such as a person’s ability to change, or whether they might or might not sustain a separation from another person or abstain from substances)

 

It is a very interesting and moving case, and once I am sure that the link does not accidentally give away something that it should not, I will share it with you.

 

 

 

 

“I know it when I see it” – deprivation of liberty

 

Readers will know that I don’t always agree with Mostyn J on issues of deprivation of liberty, but I think that he makes some very powerful points in this case and he makes them well.

 

Bournemouth Borough Council v PS 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/39.html

It involves a 28 year old, who the Court is naming “Ben”  (not his real name) who is on the autistic spectrum and has learning difficulties. The Local Authority who are providing him with care, asked the Court to make a ruling as to (a) whether the care package they were providing amounted to a deprivation of liberty and (b) whether if so, the Court would declare that this was in his best interests.

 

Firstly, Mostyn J wanted to ensure that all of the savings that Ben had accrued during his life by living frugally were not immediately eaten up by lawyers, since he would have to pay for a lawyer if represented through the Official Solicitor.  Mostyn J put different arrangements in place to ensure that Ben’s voice was heard, without draining his savings.  I applaud him for that, and it is a shame, that as he says, this may be one of the last times that this clever solution is useable.

  1. By virtue of COP Rule 2007 rule 141(1), as presently in force, Ben, as a party lacking capacity, is required to have a litigation friend. By virtue of great frugality Ben has accumulated appreciable savings from his benefits. It was foreseeable that were Ben to have a litigation friend who instructed solicitors and counsel, his savings would soon be consumed in legal costs. In my own order of 17 March 2015 I caused a recital to be inserted recording my concern that his means should not be eroded by legal costs. That same order recorded that Ben would be referred to the IMCA service for the appointment of an IMCA. That has duly happened and I have had the benefit of a helpful report from the IMCA, Katie Turner, where Ben’s wishes and feelings are clearly set out.
  2. In Re X (Deprivation of Liberty) No. 2 [2014] EWCOP 37 [2015] 2 FCR 28 Sir James Munby P at paras 12 – 15 and 19 explained that Article 6 of the 1950 Convention required that a protected person should be able to participate in the proceedings properly and satisfactorily with the opportunity of access to the court and of being heard, directly or indirectly, in the proceedings. However, these standards did not necessarily require that the protected person should be a party to the proceedings. There was no obstacle to the protected person participating in the proceedings without being a party.
  3. This ruling has been put on a statutory footing by a new rule 3A to the COP rules. This permits the protected person’s participation to be secured by the appointment of a non-legal representative. However this new rule does not take effect until 1 July 2015, some three weeks hence.
  4. In the circumstances, in what I suppose will be one of the last orders of its kind to be made, I directed that Ben be discharged as a party. I was wholly satisfied that his voice has been fully heard through the IMCA Katie Turner. Further, in relation to the question of deprivation of liberty, all relevant submissions have been fully put on both sides of the argument by counsel for the applicant and the first respondent.

 

One of the real hopes about Cheshire West when it went to the Supreme Court was that there would be a working definition of what ‘deprivation of liberty’ actually amounts to.  I didn’t like the Court of Appeal solution that it could be person specific  (i.e that a person with special needs can have less liberty and more restrictions to his liberty than an average person because his needs require it), but the Supreme Court’s acid-test is not proving much simpler than the old tangled case law.

The facts in this case which might have amounted to a deprivation of liberty were these:-

  1. There are no locks on the doors but there are sensors which would alert a staff member were he to seek to leave, although he has never tried to do so. Mr Morrison explained the situation as follows:

    “The property is such he is in theory able to leave his home on his own volition. Since he has lived at his bungalow he has never left of his own accord or verbally requested to leave without staff. However a door alarm is in place which would alert staff should Ben attempt to leave without staff attendance. If Ben were to leave the property without this having been arranged by staff they would quickly follow him, attempt to engage with him, and monitor him in the community. Ben requires one to one staff support at all times in the community. If he decided he didn’t want to return to his home, staff would firstly verbally encourage him to return, if this proved unsuccessful the Manager of Ben’s care agency would be contacted and they or another staff member would arrive and assist. If this proved unsuccessful further advice, support and attendance by Crisis Team and Social Services for crisis management would be sought and to consider whether a Mental Health Act assessment would be required. If this proved unsuccessful then consideration would be given to the attendance of the Police. Police attendance would be determined by the circumstances and if it is deemed his health and safety and that of others are at risk of harm. At all times staff would remain with Ben.”

  2. In his oral evidence Mr Morrison explained that if all attempts to persuade Ben to return home failed they would ask the police to exercise the powers under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to remove Ben to a place of safety. He also explained that consistently with a duty of common humanity if staff were out with Ben and he appeared to be about to step in front of a car they would prevent him from doing so. He stated in his witness statement:

    “Ben needs 1-1 staff support in the community as he lacks road and traffic awareness. Without staff support Ben would not take into account the traffic or road conditions at any given time. If Ben was unescorted in the community it is highly likely he would walk out into the road presenting a high risk of serious harm to him and potentially others. When Ben is escorted in the community he would be guided either verbally or physically and supported to cross a road and staff would intervene should he put himself at risk of significant harm.”

  3. He accepted under cross-examination that such an act of humanity could not amount to a deprivation of liberty, and I emphatically agree.
  4. In his witness statement Mr Morrison dwelt on one particular aspect of necessary supervision. He stated:

    “There is particular risk associated with Ben accessing public toilets in the community as the result of past incidents of Ben engaging in inappropriate sexual activity in public places including toilets. Ben has no understanding of the rights of other members of the public having access to public toilets safely and that any sexual activity in a toilet is illegal. Ben is supported by staff to access public toilets should he need to do so. … He is encouraged to use the locked cubicle of the disabled toilet and staff have a key to access should this be required. When Ben uses a male communal toilet the worker either remains outside the building or goes inside to support Ben. If Ben does not want to leave the toilet a male worker would enter the toilet and encourage him to leave. If a female worker was in attendance they would remain on site and the manager of the care agency would be called for assistance and attendance. A male worker or the intensive support team worker will arrive to support Ben. If this proved unsuccessful the Intensive support team would be called for specialist support and if unsuccessful then Police would be called.”

 

Remember that in deprivation of liberty, there’s a two stage test. Firstly, are the restrictions such as to amount to a deprivation of liberty? And secondly, if so, are those restrictions in the person’s interests?

I think it is really easy to conflate the two. It is really easy to look at this and say “of course he would be stopped if he tried to run into the road” and rather than answering it as a two stage question to simply combine the two, ending up with “someone with Ben’s difficulties would and should be stopped from running into the road, so no deprivation of liberty”  – but that’s a re-set to the Court of Appeal take on Cheshire West.

The comparison is not of Ben with other people with his difficulties and the liberty that they enjoy, but of Ben with other twenty-eight year olds, or Ben with other adults. Other adults are allowed to leave the place where they live, and are not going to be brought back by the police.  (unless their liberty is being deprived as a result of the criminal justice system, or secure accommodation, or the Mental Health Act, or a Deprivation of Liberty under the MCA).  You might consider it to be daft or irresponsible to give Ben the freedom to leave his home and go wherever he wants even if that’s in the middle of the night, but that’s why there’s the second limb – are the restrictions in his best interests?

Whether they are in his best interests or not, doesn’t stop the fact that the restrictions on his life amount to his liberty  being deprived, that’s a deprivation of liberty.

I think there’s also a blurring of whether deprivation of liberty is to be taken with a silent word ‘complete’ in there.  Few would argue that a man locked up in a prison cell, told when to eat and sleep and when he can exercise or go outside is a complete deprivation of liberty, and that what Ben is experiencing is not qualitively the same thing at all. But the Act doesn’t talk about ‘complete’ deprivation, and nor do the Supreme Court.

 

As Mostyn J says, the fuzziness around the edges of deprivation of liberty lead to applications of this kind being made, and as we saw at the outset, they don’t always make things better for Ben and people like him. He could have had all of his savings chewed up by a technical legal debate that he couldn’t care less about, because the chances are whether a Judge decides that his circumstances amount to a deprivation of liberty or not, the Judge is going to go on and say that the restrictions are in his best interests.

 

  1. In her lecture Lady Hale frankly stated that the decision of the Supreme Court of 19 March 2014 has had “alarming practical consequences”. I was told by Miss Davies that in the immediate aftermath of the decision the rate of suspected DOLs cases in this local authority rose by 1000% (it has recently reduced to 800%). This local authority is one of three in Dorset. Statistics from the Department of Health state that in the six month period immediately following the decision 55,000 DOLs applications were made, an eightfold increase on 2013-14 figures.
  2. The resource implications in terms of time and money are staggering. In the Tower Hamlets case I stated at para 60:

    “Notwithstanding the arrival of the streamlined procedure recently promulgated by the Court of Protection Practice Direction 10AA there will still be tens if not hundreds of thousands of such cases and hundreds of thousands if not millions of documents to be processed. The streamlined procedure itself requires the deployment of much man and womanpower in order to identify, monitor and process the cases. Plainly all this will cost huge sums, sums which I would respectfully suggest are better spent on the front line rather than on lawyers.”

  3. I do not criticise this local authority in the slightest for bringing this case. In the light of the decision of the Supreme Court local authorities have to err on the side of caution and bring every case, however borderline, before the court. For if they do not, and a case is later found to be one of deprivation of liberty, there may be heavy damages claims (and lawyers’ costs) to pay. I remain of the view that the matter needs to be urgently reconsidered by the Supreme Court.

Although I disagree with Mostyn J about the merits of returning to the Court of Appeal Cheshire West decision, I can’t argue with him on the underlined passage. This is not public money being well spent to make people’s lives better. This is a huge amount of money being expended to achieve very little.

 

Mostyn J’s view on the individual case is that the current circumstances do not amount to a deprivation of liberty and that it would only arise at the point where the police were asked to bring him back

 

I cannot say that I know that Ben is being detained by the state when I look at his position. Far from it. I agree with Mr Mullins that he is not. First, he is not under continuous supervision. He is afforded appreciable privacy. Second, he is free to leave. Were he to do so his carers would seek to persuade him to return but such persuasion would not cross the line into coercion. The deprivation of liberty line would only be crossed if and when the police exercised powers under the Mental Health Act. Were that to happen then a range of reviews and safeguards would become operative. But up to that point Ben is a free man. In my judgment, on the specific facts in play here, the acid test is not met. Ben is not living in a cage, gilded or otherwise.

Famously, a group of professionals working in the field were given case studies about various scenarios and asked to conclude whether each was, or was not, a deprivation of liberty and there was barely any consensus. Have things got better post Cheshire West, or are we now arguing relentlessly about ‘acid tests’ and ‘freedom to leave and ‘continuous supervision”?

 

What I like most about Mostyn J is that you never leave one of his judgments without having learned something new. There are not many people who would produce both poetry and an American case about hard core pornography to prove a point, but Mostyn J is one of them, and he has enriched my day by doing so.  I also believe that this case is now legal authority for both the elephant test and ‘if it looks like a duck’ and should you need to demonstrate those principles, you may pray this case in aid.   [The formulation of the duck principle is expressed in slightly different wording to the traditional use, so beware of a pedant challenging you]

 

  1. The continuing legal controversy shows how difficult it is to pin down a definition of what is a deprivation of liberty (i.e. detention by the state) as opposed to a restriction on movement or nothing beyond humane and empathetic care. It has been said on a number of occasions by the Strasbourg Court that the difference is merely one of degree or intensity, and not one of nature or substance (see, for example, Stanev v Bulgaria (2012) 55 EHRR 22 at para 115). Ultimately I think that whether a factual situation does or does not satisfy the acid test is likely to be determined by the “I know it when I see it” legal technique. That received its most famous expression from Justice Potter Stewart in the US Supreme Court in Jacobellis v Ohio (1964) 378 U.S. 184, an obscenity case, where he stated “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [of hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” The technique has been expressed in zoological metaphor. In Cadogan Estates Ltd v Morris [1998] EWCA Civ 1671, a case about a claim for a new lease, Stuart-Smith LJ stated at para 17 “this seems to me to be an application of the well known elephant test. It is difficult to describe, but you know it when you see it”. Another expression is the well known aphorism attributed to the American poet James Whitcomb Riley who wrote “when I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck”. The case of Stanev was perfectly obviously one of rigorous state detention. In describing Mr Stanev’s circumstances the court referred to the “severity of the regime”. The complainant was held in dire conditions in a remote compound enclosed by a high metal fence. Apart from the administration of medication, no therapeutic activities were organised for residents, who led passive, monotonous lives. The complainant needed prior permission to leave the compound, even to visit the nearby village. He had been denied permission to travel on many occasions by the management. In accordance with a practice with no legal basis, residents who left the premises for longer than the authorised period were treated as fugitives and were searched for by the police. The complainant had in fact been arrested by the police on one occasion.
  2. One does not need to reach for many legal tomes to realise that this was unquestionably a case of deprivation of liberty. The Strasbourg court knew it when it saw it.
  3. In KC v Poland [2014] ECHR 1322 a 72 year old widow, under the apparent care of a social guardian, who had previously been declared to be partially incapacitated, was placed by a court, against her wishes, in a care home on account of chronic schizophrenia and a disorder of the central nervous system. She could ask for permission to leave the care home on her own during the day. When she asked for the court order to be varied to allow her to leave for one hour a day to go to the shops and to allow her to stay in her room all day, this request was declined by the court on the basis that it was provided for by the internal regulations of the care home. The Polish government’s position was that she had never requested permission to leave on her own even for a short period of time. However, and unsurprisingly, the government did not contest that she had been deprived of her liberty under Article 5. It knew it when it saw it. The court, inevitably, agreed. At para 51 it stated:

    “In the present case, although the applicant has been declared only partially incapacitated and although the Government submitted that she could ask to leave the social care home on her own during the day, they did not contest that she had been deprived of her liberty. She was compulsory placed in the social care home, against her will, on the basis of a court decision. Therefore, the responsibility of the authorities for the situation complained of is engaged.”

  4. In my opinion that was a very obvious case of state detention

 

The problem with “I know it when I see it” is that it is going to be completely subjective. As Mostyn J pointed out, if a Local Authority worker or lawyer decides “I know it when I see it” and this isn’t a Deprivation of Liberty, and someone later challenges that it was and was an unlawful one, that then hangs on what a Judge will decide when he or she runs the “I know it when I see it” exercise. If they disagree with the LA, financial consequences will rack up. It is risk and uncertainty, and who wants risk and uncertainty?  (other than casinos and fans of Game of Thrones)

Incapacity of the Monarch (but really about Lasting Power of Attorney)

 

A quirky Court of Protection case from Senior Judge Lush, who seems to have the most interesting life – all of the cases are intricate and involving, and often with rich little details. I am quite envious.

Re XZ 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/35.html

The nub of it is that XZ, who is in his seventies and is a high net worth individual, instructed solicitors to draw up a Lasting Power of Attorney. He wanted to ensure that if he lost capacity, that his affairs would be managed, but he was also wanting to ensure that if it was a temporary blip that he would recover from, that decisions would not be made in that interregnum period that he might later regret having been made on his behalf.

There were thus some unusual and very carefully crafted clauses (the fact that the Lasting Power of Attorney makes express provision for decisions involving more than $25 million indicates that there are some significant affairs under consideration here)

 

  1. Dominic Lawrance, the solicitor who drafted these provisions, described their purpose as follows:

    “The purpose of these safeguards is to ensure that the attorneys do not act (other than in limited emergency situations) until XZ’s incapacity has:

    (a) been unequivocally confirmed by psychiatric evidence that is subject to review by the Protector; and

    (b) has endured for a minimum period of 60 days.

    This has been designed to prevent:

    (a) the attorneys taking hasty actions with which XZ might disagree if his lack of capacity were to prove temporary; and

    (b) the attorneys acting when there remained genuine scope for doubt as to whether XZ indeed lacked capacity.”

  2. At the hearing on 7 May 2015, Mr Lawrance added that these provisions were:

    “… the product of XZ’s specific instructions. He is generally loath to confer discretions and powers on other people. He likes to be ‘in the driving seat’ and was only willing to sign the LPA if these safeguards were in place.”

 

 

When the LPA was lodged with the Public Guardian’s office, the Public Guardian refused to register it, meaning that it would have no effect. The Public Guardian took the view that these restrictions meant that it was not a properly formed LPA.  That then led to the Court being invited to decide it.

 

And here is where the bit about incapacity of the monarch comes in.  I had not previously encountered this bit of legislation, and I like it.

XZ’s counsel, David Rees, compared these provisions with those in the Regency Act 1937. Both include a requirement that a third party, who is not medically qualified, should agree with the medical evidence before the powers conferred on the delegate become exercisable. Section 2 of the Regency Act prescribes the following procedure in the event of the total incapacity of the Sovereign:

“If the following persons or any three or more of them, that is to say, the wife or husband of the Sovereign, the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice of England, and the Master of the Rolls, declare in writing that they are satisfied by evidence which shall include the evidence of physicians that the Sovereign is by reason of infirmity of mind or body incapable for the time being of performing the royal functions or that they are satisfied by evidence that the Sovereign is for some definite cause not available for the performance of those functions, then, until it is declared in like manner that His Majesty has so far recovered His health as to warrant His resumption of the royal functions or has become available for the performance thereof, as the case may be, those functions shall be performed in the name and on behalf of the Sovereign by a Regent.”

 

It is always nice to be able to say “My client asked for these clauses to be in place, because he wanted similar protection to that provided to the Queen”  –  I don’t imagine the chance to say it arises that often, but if you can deploy it, why not?

So, if the Queen (or any future Monarch) lost their capacity to make decisions, the procedure would mean that on advice of physicians, three or more of the following would need to make a declaration of incapacity – currently Prince Philip, Michael Gove (!), John Bercow (!), the Right Honourable Sir John Thomas, the Right Honourable Lord Dyson. And if three or more of them do that, then the Queen’s functions would be removed from her and given to a Regent.  And she’d only get the powers and functions back if three or more of them agreed.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a statutory recipe for a coup in Great Britain. If you wanted to have a coup, that’s your legal route map.

[I’m a bit scared that Michael Gove is one third of the way to being able to seize all power from the Queen, if he can just talk two of the others into becoming ultimate rulers of the UK by his side.  At least it isn’t Grayling I suppose. Given that the Lord Chancellor  could sack the Master of the Rolls and Lord Chief Justice and appoint his own people…I should stop thinking about this]

I am scratching my head as to whether the Mental Capacity Act 2005 with its presumption of capacity disintegrates the Regency Act. The Regency Act is not in the list of repeals. But the Mental Capacity Act 2005 is said to cover people, and there’s no clause that says “people other than a reigning monarch”

 

So I already like the case for raising that bit of constitutional intrigue.

Senior Judge Lush had this to say in relation to why the judgment was published

I can’t imagine that the general public would have the slightest interest in this judgment, but its publication may be of interest to professionals who specialise in this area of the law and draft LPAs on a regular basis, and also to people who are considering making an LPA themselves, and for this reason I shall permit its publication.

 

That rather dampens my spirits, the Judge telling me that the general public won’t be interested, but it interested me.   [And yes, I should get out more]

So, what’s the decision?

  1. XZ acknowledges that his LPA will be less effective because of these provisions but, nevertheless, he wishes them to remain as an integral part of the registered instrument for his own reassurance and peace of mind. Some people may think that this is unwise, but it is his will and preference and it should be treated with respect. The Public Guardian has no right to make a paternalistic judgment on his behalf and decide that it would be in his best interests for these provisions to be severed.
  2. I agree with Mr Rees’s submission that:

    With respect to the Public Guardian, it is no part of his statutory duties to police the practicality or utility of individual aspects of an LPA. In the context of section 23 and Schedule 1, paragraph 11 of the MCA 2005 the phrase “ineffective as part of a lasting power of attorney” clearly means “not capable of taking effect, according to its legal terms as part of an LPA.” Examples of provisions which would be ineffective as part of a power of attorney would include:

    (a) a provision which purported to permit the attorney to make gifts which go beyond the statutory restrictions found at section 12 MCA 2005.

    (b) a provision which purported to go beyond what a person can do by an attorney (such as make a will or vote).

    (c) a provision which purported to permit the attorney to consent to a marriage on behalf of the donor (see MCA section 27(1)(a).

    Neither the court nor the Public Guardian are concerned with whether a restriction that does not contravene the terms of the MCA 2005 may pose practical difficulties in its operation.”

  3. The Public Guardian’s function under paragraph 11 of Schedule 1 to the Act is limited to considering whether the conditions and restrictions are (a) ineffective as part of an LPA or (b) would prevent the instrument from operating as a valid LPA.
  4. If he concludes that they cannot be given legal effect, then he is under a duty to apply to the court for a determination of the point under section 23(1). Otherwise he has a duty to register the power.
  5. Neither Miss Chandoo’s witness statement nor Miss Davidson’s submissions have identified any specific provision in the Mental Capacity Act 2005, or the LPA, EPA and PG Regulations, or the common law of agency that has been infringed by the provisions in XZ’s LPA.
  6. For these reasons, and pursuant to section 23(1) of the Act, I declare that XZ’s LPA does not contain any provisions which: (a) would be ineffective as part of an LPA; or

    (b) would prevent the instrument from operating as a valid power of attorney.

  7. I also order the Public Guardian to register the LPA.

MN (adult) 2015 – Court of Appeal pronouncements

Re MN (an adult) 2015 is a Court of Protection case, heard in the Court of Appeal, which spends nearly half of its length talking about care proceedings, housing and practice directions.

It is very very dense, and in all conscience, I couldn’t ask you to read this unless you are a lawyer or are particularly fascinated by Court of Protection work.  (There’s a brief bit in there of relevance to family lawyers – about whether Courts have the final say on care plans. If you’re pushed for time – despite Neath Port Talbot, they don’t)

Lots of big stuff in there though, including important bit for children cases.  There’s care plans, court power to make Local Authority change their plans, whether declarations are valid, costs and timescales in Court of Protection cases and our old friend bundle sizes.

If you are a lawyer working in the Court of Protection, brace yourself for a huge pile of standardised orders, case summaries, and practice directions, all of which will be carefully and thoughtfully designed to make every aspect of your working life more awkward and time consuming than it was before.  Flaubert once said that writing his novels was like having ones flesh torn off with red hot pincers, but he never had to complete a standardised Case Management Order. He would have considerably softened his view of how hard it was to write his novels, if he had this broader experience of life’s miseries.

If you see an announcement of the Court of Protection Outline being launched, quit your job, and take up gainful employment as someone who tests the sharpness of porcupine quills by bungee jumping onto them face first – you will be much happier in the long run.

[Editor note – somewhat over-selling that, Suesspicious Minds? Perhaps a smidge. ]

The actual point of the appeal is an important one,  and in deciding it, the Court of Appeal say some useful things about care cases and specifically care plans.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/411.html

Let’s deal with the care plan bit first (sorry Court of Protection folks, but actually explaining this will help explain what’s going on later on in the judgment)

 

Historically this has been the deal – the LA submit their care plan (what will they do if the Court grant their order?) and the Court decide whether to grant the order. We then got into something of a tangle in cases where the Court wanted to grant the order, but not on the plan put before them. There have been various stages of that arm-wrestling, but where we got up to recently was Re W (or the Neath Port Talbot case) in which the Court of Appeal (principally Ryder LJ) tried to put the power in the hands of the Court.  [I personally think that flies in the face of Supreme Court authority, but ho-hum]

The President here clarifies the law, and takes a step backwards from the more bullish aspects of the Neath Port Talbot judgment. Underlining mine for emphasis.

  1. Finally, I need to consider the position where the court – that is, in relation to a child the subject of care proceedings, the family court, or, in relation to an adult the subject of personal welfare proceedings, the Court of Protection – is being asked to approve the care plan put forward by the local or other public authority which has brought the proceedings. I start with care proceedings under Part IV of the 1989 Act.
  2. It is the duty of any court hearing an application for a care order carefully to scrutinise the local authority’s care plan and to satisfy itself that the care plan is in the child’s interests. If the court is not satisfied that the care plan is in the best interests of the child, it may refuse to make a care order: see Re T (A Minor) (Care Order: Conditions) [1994] 2 FLR 423. It is important, however, to appreciate the limit of the court’s powers: the only power of the court is either to approve or refuse to approve the care plan put forward by the local authority. The court cannot dictate to the local authority what the care plan is to say. Nor, for reasons already explained, does the High Court have any greater power when exercising its inherent jurisdiction. Thus the court, if it seeks to alter the local authority’s care plan, must achieve its objective by persuasion rather than by compulsion.
  3. That said, the court is not obliged to retreat at the first rebuff. It can invite the local authority to reconsider its care plan and, if need be, more than once: see Re X; Barnet London Borough Council v Y and X [2006] 2 FLR 998. How far the court can properly go down this road is a matter of some delicacy and difficulty. There are no fixed and immutable rules. It is impossible to define in the abstract or even to identify with any precision in the particular case the point to which the court can properly press matters but beyond which it cannot properly go. The issue is always one for fine judgment, reflecting sensitivity, realism and an appropriate degree of judicial understanding of what can and cannot sensibly be expected of the local authority.
  4. In an appropriate case the court can and must (see In re B-S (Children) (Adoption Order: Leave to Oppose) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, [2014] 1 WLR 563, para 29):

    “be rigorous in exploring and probing local authority thinking in cases where there is any reason to suspect that resource issues may be affecting the local authority’s thinking.”

    Rigorous probing, searching questions and persuasion are permissible; pressure is not.

  5. I should add that the court has the power to direct the local authority to file evidence or to prepare and file a further plan, including, if the court directs, a description of the services that are available and practicable for each placement option being considered by the court. The local authority is obliged to do so even though the plan’s contents may not or do not reflect its formal position, for it is not for the local authority (or indeed any other party) to decide whether it is going to restrict or limit the evidence that it presents: see Re W (Care Proceedings: Functions of Court and Local Authority) [2013] EWCA Civ 1227, [2014] 2 FLR 431. As Ryder LJ said (para 79):

    “It is part of the case management process that a judge may require a local authority to give evidence about what services would be provided to support the strategy set out in its care plan … That may include evidence about more than one different possible resolution so the court might know the benefits and detriments of each option and what the local authority would or would not do. That may also include requiring the local authority to set out a care plan to meet a particular formulation or assessment of risk, even if the local authority does not agree with that risk.”

Where Ryder LJ was suggesting that at this point, the Court can mutter darkly about judicial review and invite a party to make such an application  (in effect compelling the Local Authority to either give in or incur horrendous costs in judicial review proceedings with no prospect of recovering those costs from the other side, who will be ‘men of straw’), the President considers that after those attempts at persuasion have failed, the Court has to choose the lesser of two evils.

  1. Despite its best efforts, the court may, nonetheless, find itself faced with a situation where it has to choose the lesser of two evils. As Balcombe LJ said in Re S and D (Children: Powers of Court) [1995] 2 FLR 456, 464, the judge may, despite all his endeavours, be faced with a dilemma:

    “if he makes a care order, the local authority may implement a care plan which he or she may take the view is not in the child or children’s best interests. On the other hand, if he makes no order, he may be leaving the child in the care of an irresponsible, and indeed wholly inappropriate parent.”

    Balcombe LJ continued:

    “It seems to me that, regrettable though it may seem, the only course he may take is to choose what he considers to be the lesser of two evils. If he has no other route open to him … then that is the unfortunate position he has to face.”

  2. In practice courts are not very often faced with this dilemma. Wilson J, as he then was, recognised in Re C (Adoption: Religious Observance) [2002] 1 FLR 1119, para 51, that “a damaging impasse can develop between a court which declines to approve their care plan and the authority which decline to amend it.” But, as he went on to observe:

    “The impasse is more theoretical than real: the last reported example is Re S and D (Children: Powers of Court) [1995] 2 FLR 456. For good reason, there are often, as in this case, polarised views about the optimum solution for the child: in the end, however, assuming that they feel that the judicial processing of them has worked adequately, the parties will be likely to accept the court’s determination and, in particular, the local authority will be likely to amend their proposals for the child so as to accord with it … In the normal case let there be – in the natural forum of the family court – argument, decision and, sometimes no doubt with hesitation, acceptance: in other words, between all of us a partnership, for the sake of the child.”

 

It would remain an unwise Local Authority who continued to disagree with judicial persuasion at that point, but if they do, the Court simply has to choose.  [It is worth noting that the issue that Ryder LJ went to war on – the ability to force a Local Authority to have a care order with a plan of the child being at home, is exactly the situation which is wreaking havoc in Re D – since if it all goes wrong, the parents get no legal aid to argue the case and there’s no easy application to be made to fix things]

 

Moving on, (come back Court of Protection people) , the Court of Protection say that the same provisions apply. The Court can try to persuade a Local Authority to alter their plan, but they can’t compel them to.

In my judgment exactly the same principles as apply to care cases involving children apply also to personal welfare cases involving incapacitated adults, whether the case is proceeding in the Family Division under the inherent jurisdiction or, as here, in the Court of Protection under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The fact that a care plan is now part of the statutory process in relation to care cases involving children, whereas there is no corresponding statutory requirement for a care plan in an adult personal welfare case is neither here nor there. Care plans are a routine part of the process in adult cases.

 

That’s important, because the fundamental issue in MN was that MN’s family disagreed with the plan that the Local Authority had for him, and wanted the Court to decide that this plan was not in his best interests.

  1. MN, born in 1993, is a young man who suffers from profound disabilities and lacks capacity to make relevant decisions for himself. When MN was 8 years old he was made the subject of a care order on the application of the local authority, ACC. Shortly before his 18th birthday the court approved MN’s move from his residential children’s placement to an adult residential placement, RCH, where he continues to live. The clinical commissioning group, ACCG, took over responsibility from ACC for the funding of MN’s placement at RCH when he turned 18. The present proceedings were brought by ACC and commenced on 25 August 2011. MN’s parents, Mr N and Mrs N, accept, reluctantly, that MN should live at RCH, where they have regular contact with him, but their aspiration remains that he should return to live with them at home.
  2. By the time the matter came on for hearing before Eleanor King J, the issues had narrowed to disputes (i) as to whether Mrs N should be permitted to assist in MN’s intimate care when visiting him at RCH and (ii) as to whether contact should also take place at Mr and Mrs N’s home. As to (i), RCH was not willing for this to be done. As to (ii), ACCG was not willing to provide the necessary funding for the additional carers who would be needed if MN was to have home contact.

You can see from the lead-in that the Court of Appeal weren’t terribly taken with the idea that by deciding that X plan wasn’t in MN’s best interests, the Local Authority could be compelled to redesign the plan for MN.  The Court has to choose from the options which are realistically before it – they have to choose from what’s on the menu, rather than demanding that the chef cook something more to their liking.

 

If the family really think that the LA are unreasonable, then the remedy is judicial review, not getting the Court of Protection to twist the Local Authority’s arm (or make declarations whose value is merely to lay the foundations for a good judicial review case)

 

  1. In my judgment the judge was right in all respects and essentially for the reasons she gave.
  2. The function of the Court of Protection is to take, on behalf of adults who lack capacity, the decisions which, if they had capacity, they would take themselves. The Court of Protection has no more power, just because it is acting on behalf of an adult who lacks capacity, to obtain resources or facilities from a third party, whether a private individual or a public authority, than the adult if he had capacity would be able to obtain himself. The A v Liverpool principle applies as much to the Court of Protection as it applies to the family court or the Family Division. The analyses in A v A Health Authority and in Holmes-Moorhouse likewise apply as much in the Court of Protection as in the family court or the Family Division. The Court of Protection is thus confined to choosing between available options, including those which there is good reason to believe will be forthcoming in the foreseeable future.
  3. The Court of Protection, like the family court and the Family Division, can explore the care plan being put forward by a public authority and, where appropriate, require the authority to go away and think again. Rigorous probing, searching questions and persuasion are permissible; pressure is not. And in the final analysis the Court of Protection cannot compel a public authority to agree to a care plan which the authority is unwilling to implement. I agree with the point Eleanor King J made in her judgment (para 57):

    “In my judgment, such discussions and judicial encouragement for flexibility and negotiation in respect of a care package are actively to be encouraged. Such negotiations are however a far cry from the court embarking on a ‘best interests’ trial with a view to determining whether or not an option which has been said by care provider (in the exercise of their statutory duties) not to be available, is nevertheless in the patient’s best interest.”

  4. Back of the specific authorities to which I have referred there are, in my judgment, four reasons why the Court of Protection should not embark upon the kind of process for which Ms Bretherton and Ms Weereratne contend. First, it is not a proper function of the Court of Protection (nor, indeed, of the family court or the Family Division in analogous situations), to embark upon a factual inquiry into some abstract issue the answer to which cannot affect the outcome of the proceedings before it. Secondly, it is not a proper function of the Court of Protection (nor of the family court or the Family Division) to embark upon a factual inquiry designed to create a platform or springboard for possible future proceedings in the Administrative Court. Thirdly, such an exercise runs the risk of confusing the very different perspectives and principles which govern the exercise by the Court of Protection of its functions and those which govern the exercise by the public authority of its functions – and, in consequence, the very different issues which arise for determination in the Court of Protection in contrast to those which arise for determination in the Administrative Court. Fourthly, such an exercise runs the risk of exposing the public authority to impermissible pressure. Eleanor King J rightly identified (para 59) the need to:

    avoid a situation arising where the already vastly overstretched Court of Protection would be routinely asked to make hypothetical decisions in relation to ‘best interests’, with the consequence that CCGs are driven to fund such packages or be faced with the threat of expensive and lengthy judicial review proceedings.”

    Precisely so.

  5. The present case, it might be thought, illustrates the point to perfection. The proposal was that the judge should spend three days, poring over more than 2,000 pages of evidence, to come to a ‘best interests’ interest on an abstract question, and all for what?

 

That last point segueways into all of the Practice pronouncements.

Let’s start with bundles.

  1. We were told that the trial bundle in the present case ran to five lever arch files and also, which did not surprise me, that this was not atypical in this kind of case. I confess, however, to being surprised – and that is a pretty anaemic word – when told that the bundle contained no fewer than 2,029 pages of evidence. That, I have to say, is an indictment of the culture which has been allowed to develop in the Court of Protection. It must stop. In the family court, the relevant Practice Direction in relation to bundles provides that the bundle must not exceed one lever arch containing no more than 350 pages unless a larger bundle has been specifically authorised by a judge: FPR 2010 PD27A, para 5.1. It might be thought that the corresponding Practice Direction in the Court of Protection, PD13B, should be brought into line. In the meantime, proper compliance with PD13B is essential and should be rigorously enforced by Court of Protection judges. In particular, proper compliance with PD13B, paras 4.2, 4.3, 4.6 and 4.7, which judges must insist upon, will go a very long way to meeting the concerns identified by Charles J in A Local Authority v PB and P [2011] EWHC 502 (COP), [2011] COPLR Con Vol 166.
  2. In the Court of Protection, the use of expert evidence is restricted by Rule 121 to “that which is reasonably required to resolve the proceedings.” One of the most salutary and effective of the recent reforms to family justice has been the imposition of a significantly more demanding test by section 13(6) of the Children and Families Act 2014 – “necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings justly.” Here, as I have already noted, the bundle contained an astonishing 1,289 pages of expert evidence. The profligate expenditure of public resources on litigation conducted in such an unrestrainedly luxurious manner is something that can no longer be tolerated. As I recently observed in relation to the family court (Re L (A Child) [2015] EWFC 15, para 38):

    “I end with yet another plea for restraint in the expenditure of public funds. Public funds, whether those under the control of the LAA or those under the control of other public bodies, are limited, and likely in future to reduce rather than increase. It is essential that such public funds as are available for funding litigation in the Family Court and the Family Division are carefully husbanded and properly applied. It is no good complaining that public funds are available only for X and not for Y if money available for X is being squandered. Money should be spent only on what is “necessary” to enable the court to deal with the proceedings “justly”. If a task is not “necessary” – if it is unnecessary – why should litigants or their professional advisers expect public money to be made available? They cannot and they should not. Proper compliance with PD27A and, in particular, strict adherence to the bundle page limit, is an essential tool in the struggle to control the costs of family litigation.”

    Consideration requires to be given to the early amendment of Rule 121 to bring it into line with section 13(6).

 

Get ready for 350 page bundles and rigorous scrutiny over expert evidence. If the experience in family proceedings is anything to go by, expect to be spending 10% of your working day f***ing about with bundles.

What else?

 

Timescales

  1. That takes me on to the other point. The time these proceedings took to reach a final hearing was depressingly long. I am very conscious that one must not push too far the analogy between personal welfare proceedings in the Court of Protection and care proceedings in the family court, but they do share a number of common forensic characteristics. Even allowing for the fact – not that it arose in this particular case – that cases in the Court of Protection may involve disputes about capacity which, in the nature of things, do not feature in care cases, there is a striking contrast between the time some personal welfare cases in the Court of Protection take to reach finality and the six-month time limit applicable in care proceedings by virtue of section 32(1)(a)(ii) of the 1989 Act. The present case, it might be thought, is a bad example of what I fear is still an all-too prevalent problem.
  2. We invited counsel to make any comments on this aspect of the matter which they thought might assist. Their historical accounts of the litigation are illuminating and need not be rehearsed but demonstrate that the delays were not caused by any one party nor by any one factor. The truth is that this case, like too many other ‘heavy’ personal welfare cases in the Court of Protection, demonstrates systemic failures which have contributed to a culture in which unacceptable delay is far too readily tolerated.
  3. In the family court the handling of care cases has been radically improved, and the previously endemic problem of delay has been brought under control, by the procedures set out in the Public Law Outline, contained in the Family Procedure Rules 2010, PD12A. Key elements of the PLO are judicial continuity, robust judicial case management, the early identification of issues by the case management judge, and the fixing at the outset by the case management judge of a timetable, departure from which is not readily permitted. Failure to comply with the timetable set by the judge and failure to comply, meticulously and on time, with court orders is no longer tolerated, as defaulters have discovered to their cost (for the applicability of this to the Court of Protection see Re G (Adult); London Borough of Redbridge v G, C and F [2014] EWCOP 1361, [2014] COPLR 416, para 12). Moreover, the parties are not permitted to agree any adjustment of the timetable or any extensions of time without the prior approval of the court: see Re W (Children) [2014] EWFC 22, paras 17-19. In the family court there has been a cultural revolution, from which the Court of Protection needs to learn.

 

[Of course, the best revolutions to learn from are those that actually worked, but I suppose you can learn from an unholy mess of a cultural revolution too]

What else?

Lack of rigour in defining the argument

  1. The first relates to the need, rightly identified by Charles J in A Local Authority v PB and P [2011] EWHC 502 (COP), [2011] COPLR Con Vol 166, paras 31-33, to identify, flag up and address, well before a personal welfare case comes on for hearing in the Court of Protection, (i) any jurisdictional issues and the legal arguments relating to them and, more generally, (ii) the issues, the nature of each party’s case, the facts that need to be established and the evidence to be given. The purpose, of course, is to ensure that each party knows the cases being advanced by the others. Charles J went on (paras 34-46) to elaborate how all this might be achieved.
  2. That judgment was handed down on 26 January 2011. It is depressing to have to note how little of what Charles J had said seems to have percolated through to those involved in the present case.
  3. The proceedings began, as I have said, on 25 August 2011. The hearing before Eleanor King J commenced on 18 November 2013, over two years later. The issues with which Eleanor King J and subsequently this court have been concerned had, to use Ms Bretherton’s phrase, been “bubbling under the surface for some time.” The case was listed for three days. As Eleanor King J described it in her judgment (para 46):

    “[Mr and Mrs N] had anticipated until the morning of the trial that, whilst they make a concession in relation to MN’s residence, there would still be consideration by the Court of Protection of the contact issue. Their expectation was that, over 3 days, witnesses would be called and cross-examined and submissions made prior to the court reaching a ‘best interests’ decision as to whether or not MN should have contact at the home of his parents as the first stage of a gradual progression to either living or spending lengthy periods of time with them there. I understand that they may feel that the ground has been cut from under their feet by what Ms Bretherton referred to as the public authorities’ ‘knock out blow’.”

  4. As the judge records in her judgment (para 18), counsel for ACC in a position statement dated 14 August 2013 had flagged up one issue in the case as being the interface between the Court of Protection and the Administrative Court, and had made it clear that her case was that the Court of Protection is limited to choosing between the available options and making decisions that MN is unable to make by virtue of his incapacity. However, directions were given at a hearing on 28 August 2013 for the filing of further evidence and thereafter, we were told, the parties prepared for a three day trial of the contested issues of fact.
  5. ACC’s stance on the jurisdictional issue was clarified in an email (to which copies of various authorities were attached) sent by ACC’s counsel to the other counsel in the case at 23.02 the night before the hearing was due to start. The judge recorded what followed (paras 22-23):

    “[22] … When the court sat it was told, for the first time, that a jurisdictional issue arose as to whether … the court should, or should not, now embark on a contested ‘best interests’ trial in relation to home contact and of personal care of MN by Mrs N.

    [23] No skeleton arguments on the law had been prepared and none of the position statements filed directly addressed, or even identified this legal argument.”

    The judge (para 47) appropriately paid tribute to Ms Bretherton for being both able and willing to deal with the argument then and there.

[Suesspicious Minds note – never mind credit – Ms Bretherton deserves a 21 gun salute and a parade for being able to walk a Court through all of this complexity without a substantial written document]

 

  1. The judge was rightly critical of how this state of affairs had come about and (para 46) “wholeheartedly endorse[d]” the observations Charles J had made in A Local Authority v PB and P [2011] EWHC 502 (COP), [2011] COPLR Con Vol 166.
  2. Steps need to be taken to ensure, as best can be, that there is no repetition of this kind of problem.

 

The quest for perfection

  1. This is not the first time that practice in the Court of Protection has attracted judicial criticism: see the judgments of Parker J in NCC v PB and TB [2014] EWCOP 14, [2015] COPLR 118, paras 126-148, and of Peter Jackson J in A & B (Court of Protection: Delay and Costs) [2014] EWCOP 48, [2015] COPLR 1. A & B related to two cases. In one case the proceedings in the Court of Protection had lasted for 18 months, in the other for five years. In his judgment, Peter Jackson J described (para 11) how:

    “the consequence of delay has been protracted stress – described by one parent as “the human misery” – for the young men and their families, with years being lost while solutions were sought.”

  2. He rightly drew attention (para 14) to a particular problem:

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

    I agree, and wish to emphasise the point. He went on (para 15) to deprecate, as Parker J had done, “a developing practice in these cases of addressing every conceivable legal or factual issue, rather than concentrating on the issues that really need to be resolved.” Again, I wholeheartedly agree.

 

Declarations

Unless the declaratory order sought comes squarely within the statute, it ought not to be used, says the Court of Appeal. It is a hangover from the inherent jurisdiction days, but the Court of Protection is not in that ‘theoretically limitless powers’ kingdom any longer-  it has the powers that Statute provides it, and no other.

 

  1. There was a certain amount of debate before us as to the use of declaratory orders in the Court of Protection. This is not the occasion for any definitive pronouncement but three observations are, I think, in order.
  2. First, the still inveterate use of orders in the form of declaratory relief might be thought to be in significant part both anachronistic and inappropriate. It originated at a time when, following the decision of the House of Lords in In re F (Mental Patient: Sterilisation) [1990] 2 AC 1, it was believed that the inherent jurisdiction of the Family Division in relation to incapacitated adults was confined to a jurisdiction to declare something either lawful or unlawful. Even before the Mental Capacity Act 2005 was brought into force, that view of the inherent jurisdiction had been shown to be unduly narrow: see St Helens Borough Council v PE [2006] EWHC 3460 (Fam), [2007] 1 FLR 1115. Moreover, the Court of Protection has, in addition to the declaratory jurisdiction referred to in section 15 of the 2005 Act, the more extensive powers conferred by section 16.
  3. Secondly, the Court of Protection is a creature of statute, having the powers conferred on it by the 2005 Act. Section 15 is very precise as to the power of the Court of Protection to grant declarations. Sections 15(1)(a) and (b) empower the Court of Protection to make declarations that “a person has or lacks capacity” to make certain decisions. Section 15(1)(c) empowers the Court of Protection to make declarations as to “the lawfulness or otherwise of any act done, or yet to be done.” Given the very precise terms in which section 15 is drafted, it is not at all clear that the general powers conferred on the Court of Protection by section 47(1) of the 2005 Act extend to the granting of declarations in a form not provided for by section 15. Indeed, the better view is that probably they do not: consider XCC v AA and others [2012] EWHC 2183 (COP), [2012] COPLR 730, para 48. Moreover, it is to be noted that section 15(1)(c) does not confer any general power to make bare declarations as to best interests; it is very precise in defining the power in terms of declarations as to “lawfulness.” The distinction is important: see the analysis in St Helens Borough Council v PE [2006] EWHC 3460 (Fam), [2007] 1 FLR 1115, paras 11-18.
  4. Thirdly, a declaration has no coercive effect and cannot be enforced by committal: see A v A Health Authority, paras 118-128 and, most recently, MASM v MMAM and others [2015] EWCOP 3.
  5. All in all, it might be thought that, unless the desired order clearly falls within the ambit of section 15, orders are better framed in terms of relief under section 16 and that, if non-compliance or interference with the arrangements put in place by the Court of Protection is thought to be a risk, that risk should be met by extracting appropriate undertakings or, if suitable undertakings are not forthcoming, granting an injunction
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