The Court of Protection grappled with a difficult issue in A NHS Trust v Dr A 2013
Apologies in advance – this is a long article, it is complex and if you don’t do mental capacity or mental health law you probably don’t need to read it.
The facts of the case involved a Doctor who began manifesting erratic behaviour, for example insisting that anyone in the colour red was a member of the Iranian Secret Police and that a book he was writing disproving evolution would make him famous after his death. Dr A also went on hunger strike, following the confiscation of his passport by the UK Border Agency.
Although one expert was of the view that Dr A’s behaviour was all an attempt to apply pressure to reverse decisions about his asylum case, the vast majority of the experts considered that he had had a genuine breakdown of his mental health.
Without going into the details too much, the Court were satisfied that Dr A was suffering from a delusional disorder impairing the functioning of his brain affecting his ability to use or weigh up information relevant to his decision as to whether or not to accept nourishment. (And thus in terms, that he did not have the capacity to decide to refuse nourishment)
The Court then weighed up whether it was in Dr A’s best interests to receive nutrition by way of force feeding or not – this is not a simple decision, and a number of competing factors were weighed up and considered. The Court determined that it would be in Dr A’s best interests to receive nutrition by way of nasogastric tube feeding.
However, an issue then arose about whether, having made the declaration that Dr A lacked capacity, and that force-feeding would be in his best interests, whether the Court actually had jurisdiction to compel it.
- I therefore conclude that it is in Dr. A’s best interests for this court to make an order that permits the forcible administration of artificial nutrition and hydration.
- I now turn to consider the power of the court to make the order in his best interests. The question emerged in the course of argument as to whether, in the circumstances of this case, the court had the power under the MCA to make an order for the forcible feeding of Dr. A. Subsequently, the investigation and analysis of that question has taken a considerable amount of time, both for the parties’ legal representatives and the court. It is alarming to find that the legal position on this fundamental issue is far from straightforward
The fact that the next part of the judgment is headed “Eligibility – a new gap?” will make practitioners in this field very nervous – the last gap went all the way to Europe, and ended up with the Mental Capacity Act and all of the impenetrability that the MCA has become in practice.
The Court had to look at whether force-feeding was a deprivation of liberty, and concluded that yes it was. This may well turn out to be important in other cases involving for example political protests, Brady-type efforts to end ones own life or persons with eating disorders.
When determining whether the circumstances amount objectively to a deprivation of liberty, as opposed to a mere restriction of liberty, the court looks first at the concrete situation in which the individual finds himself. In this case, there is no dispute that subjecting Dr. A. to forcible feeding amounts to a deprivation of liberty. In order to feed him he will be physically restrained by NHS staff against his will while a nasogastric tube is inserted. The restraint continues to prevent him removing the tube. On occasions, in this process, he is sedated. He is not allowed to leave the hospital. The staff are effecting complete control over his care, treatment and movements, and, as a result, he loses a very significant degree of personal autonomy.
The issue then was whether the Court had powers under the MCA to make an order that had the effect of depriving Dr A of his liberty. This becomes very complex, very quickly, even by MCA standards.
- 16A(1) of the MCA are clear:
“If a person is ineligible to be deprived of liberty by this Act, the court may not include in a welfare order provision which authorises the person to be deprived of his liberty.”
And then a long trawl through Schedule 1A of the MCA which sets out when a person is ineligible to be deprived of liberty under the MCA shows that the MCA can’t be used to deprive a person of their liberty if they are being, or are capable of being , detained under the Mental Health Act.
In the light of the evidence suggesting that the criteria set by section 2 MHA might be met in respect of Dr. A., it seemed to me that it was at least arguable that he was “within the scope of the MHA” and therefore, by virtue of paragraph 5 of schedule 1A of the MCA, ineligible to be detained under the MCA.
The hospital actually detained Dr A under s3 of the Mental Health Act during the interim period between the Judge asking trial counsel how the heck this could be fixed and them coming up with solutions. Did that help?
- The consequence of placing Dr. A under section 3 was, however, merely to accentuate the difficulties about the application of section 16A because, although removing him from the ambit of case E of schedule 1A, it put him squarely within case A. On any view, he is both subject to a “hospital treatment regime” within the meaning of paragraph 8(1) of the schedule and also detained in a hospital under that regime. In those circumstances he is, prima facie, ineligible to be deprived of his liberty under the MCA and the Court of Protection may not include in any welfare order any provision which authorises him to be so deprived.
- Put boldly in that way, it will be seen that this might make it impossible for someone to be treated in a way that is outwith his “treatment” under the MHA if that treatment involves a deprivation of liberty. To take a stark example: if someone detained under section 3 is suffering from gangrene so as to require an amputation in his best interests and objects to that operation, so that it could only be carried by depriving him of his liberty, that process could not prima facie be carried out either under the MHA or under the MCA. This difficulty potentially opens a gap every bit as troublesome as that identified in the Bournewood case itself.
So, you can provide treatment to a person who is, or is capable of being, detained under the Mental Health Act, in accordance with the MHA BUT if the treatment isn’t capable of being provided under the MHA you cannot then turn to the MCA as being a vehicle for providing that treatment even if the person does not have capacity and the Court has declared that the treatment is in their best interests, because of Schedule 1 A of the MCA.
Sorry, this is going to be complex, it takes about five pages of going through the Act itself to get to that point – the Judge was so exasperated by what he described as the ambiguity, obscurity and possible absurdity of the legislation, that he authorised counsel to look at the Parliamentary debates in a Pepper v Hart exercise to see if this idiocy was what Parliament had intended, or whether it was a cock-up. (Judges hardly ever embark on the exercise of looking at what Parliament said about the construction of the Act – it’s that Otto von Bismarck “laws are like sausages – it is better not to see them being made” thing)
- The Official Solicitor now suggests three solutions to the problem described above:
(1) The necessary feeding and associated measures can be taken under the MHA. There is therefore no need for an order under the MCA.
(2) If the necessary feeding and associated measures cannot be taken under the MHA, an order can still and should be made under the MCA interpreted in accordance with the Human Rights Act 1998.
(3) If the necessary feeding or associated measures cannot be taken under the MHA or the MCA, an order should be made under the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction.
I shall consider these options in turn.
Authorising the treatment under the Mental Health Act
Understandably, the Official Solicitor cited the Ian Brady case as authority for the suggestion that force-feeding can be authorised under the Mental Health Act.
This is the key passage in the Brady judgment that sanctioned his force-feeding under the MHA (a decision that frankly, I found a bit ‘iffy’ at the time, going much further than traditional views that one can forcibly treat the mental disorder but not physical disorders under the MHA)
71. “On any view, and to a high degree of probability, section 63 (MHA) was triggered because what arose was the need for medical treatment for the mental disorder from which the Applicant was and is suffering. The hunger strike is a manifestation or symptom of the personality disorder. The fact (if such it be) that a person without mental disorder could reach the same decision on a rational basis in similar circumstances does not avail the Applicant because he reached and persists in his decision because of his personality disorder.”
The medical evidence in this case did not back that up
In this case, therefore, the clinicians treating Dr. A. feel strongly that artificial nutrition and hydration and ancillary treatment are, on the facts of the case, treatment for a physical disorder, starvation and dehydration, and not for the underlying mental disorder. Dr. A. is not suffering from an eating disorder. Whilst feeding him may make him feel better, it is not treating him for a mental disorder as it would be were he suffering from anorexia nervosa.
- On this point I have found the views articulated by the treating clinicians, and in particular Dr. WJ, persuasive. She does not consider that the administration of artificial nutrition and hydration to Dr. A. in the circumstances of this case to be a medical treatment for his mental disorder, but rather for a physical disorder that arises from his decision to refuse food. That decision is, of course, flawed in part because his mental disorder deprives him of the capacity to use and weigh information relevant to the decision. The physical disorder is thus in part a consequence of his mental disorder, but, in my judgement, it is not obviously either a manifestation or a symptom of the mental disorder. This case is thus distinguishable from both the Croydon case and Brady.
- I also accept the submissions put forward by Miss Paterson, and acknowledged by the Official Solicitor, that it is generally undesirable to extend the meaning of medical treatment under the MHA too far so as to bring about deprivation of liberty in respect of sectioned or sectionable patients beyond what is properly within the ambit of the MHA. I recognise the need for identifying, where possible, a clear dividing line between what is and what is not treatment for a mental disorder within the meaning of the MHA; but I venture to suggest that in medicine, as in the law, it is not always possible to discern clear dividing lines. In case of uncertainty, where there is doubt as to whether the treatment falls within section 145 and section 63, the appropriate course is for an application to be made to the court to approve the treatment. That approach ensures that the treatment given under section 63 of the MHA will be confined to that which is properly within the definition of section 145 as amended. It would help to ensure that patients with mental disorders are, so far as possible, treated informally rather than under section. Finally, it ensures compliance with Article 8 and provides the patient with a more effective remedy than would otherwise be available, namely a forensic process to determine whether the treatment is in his best interests.
- I therefore decline to make a declaration that artificial nutrition and hydration can be administered to Dr. A. under the MHA
Authorising the treatment under the MCA, by interpreting it in light of the Human Rights Act
I liked this argument, it is clever. If the MCA as drafted, puts a Court in a position of not being able to protect the right to life of a person who the Court has determined does not have the capacity to refuse treatment which would save his life, the Court ought to interpret the MCA in such a way that it does NOT clash with the article 2 right to life. And using the powerful tool of s3 (1) Human Rights Act to do so
Under section 3(1) of the Human Rights Act:
“So far as it is possible to do so, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights.”
- The second basis on which the Official Solicitor invites the court to authorise the forcible feeding of Dr. A. is under section 16 of the MCA. He submits that the provisions of the MCA read in compliance with the Human Rights Act and the European Convention permit the court to take this course. Mr. Moon and Miss Street submit, first, that, so far as it is possible to do so, the MCA must be interpreted so as to be consistent with the best interests of the person lacking capacity (section 1(5) of the MCA). Unless the court authorises the forcible administration of artificial nutrition and hydration to Dr. A. he will die. The court is thus under an obligation to interpret its powers in a way that ensures his life is saved.
- It is submitted by Mr. Moon and Miss Street, however, that the obligations on the court go further. Under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights “everyone’s rights to life shall be protected by law”. Amongst the duties imposed on the State by Article 2 is the so-called “operational duty” requiring the State in certain circumstances to take preventative measures to protect an individual whose life is at risk: Osman v. United Kingdom  29 EHRR 245.
But it is still No
- The course proposed by counsel, though in some ways attractive, involves reading into section 16A a provision that would have the effect of fundamentally altering its clear meaning. The scheme of the amendments to the MCA, introduced in 2007, is plain. In certain circumstances defined in schedule 1A, the MHA regime takes precedence over the MCA. No argument has been advanced which has persuaded me to disagree with the assessment of Charles J in Re GJ (supra) that the MHA has primacy over the MCA and, in particular, his observation at paragraph 96 of the judgment:
“Case A is a clear indication of the primacy of the MHA 1983 when a person is detained in hospital under the hospital treatment regime and it would seem that when it applies P cannot be deprived of liberty under the MCA in a hospital for any purpose.” [my emphasis]
In such circumstances, and notwithstanding the uncompromising words of Lord Nicholls quoted above, any court, particularly a Judge at first instance, must at least hesitate before reading into a statute words that would have the effect of fundamentally altering its meaning and undermining the apparent scheme of the legislation. He should hesitate still further when the proposed reading in has not been the subject of full argument on both sides nor referred to the relevant Government department. Despite the great efforts of counsel, I am far from satisfied that all the consequences of their proposed reading in of words into section 16A have been fully identified. It may be that, with further thought, an alternative reading or reinterpretation may seem prevalent. For example, it may be thought that, if any statute or provision needs to be reconsidered to ensure capability with ECHR in this context, it should be the MHA rather than the MCA.
- I acknowledge, of course, my obligation under section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act not to act in a way that is incompatible with that Act. Were it not for the availability of the inherent jurisdiction, I might be more inclined to adopt the course proposed above or to arrange further hearings before making a decision. Happily, however, for the reasons I will now explain, I am satisfied that the powers available to me under the inherent jurisdiction enable me to comply with my obligations under that section.
Inherent jurisdiction then?
The Judge set out the body of authority which endorses the view that the Court hold an inherent jurisdiction in relation to adults just as it does for children, ending with the most recent authority.
90. Confirmation is provided by the more recent decision of the Court of Appeal in DL v. A Local Authority  EWCA Civ. 253 in which Davis LJ said at paragraph 70:
“Where cases fall precisely within the ambit of the MCA 2005 and are capable of being dealt with under its provisions there is no room for – as well as no need for – invocation of the inherent jurisdiction. However, even in the case of an adult who lacks capacity within the meaning of the MCA 2005, it appears that the inherent jurisdiction remains available to cover situations not precisely within the reach of the statute.”
- The issue is considered at greater length in the judgment of McFarlane LJ who, in reaching the same conclusion, pointed out the MCA contains no provision restricting the use of the inherent jurisdiction in terms of those found in section 100 of the Children Act 1989, “Limited use of Wardship and Inherent Jurisdiction in matters relating to Children”. On this, McFarlane LJ said at paragraph 61:
“It would have been open to Parliament to include a similar provision, either permitting or restricting the use of the inherent jurisdiction in cases relating to the capacity to make decisions which are not within the MCA 2005. In the absence of any express provision, the clear implication is that if there are matters outside the statutory scheme to which the inherent jurisdiction applies then that jurisdiction continues to be available to continue to act as the ‘great safety net’ described by Lord Donaldson.”
In essence, if Parliament wanted to stop the use of inherent jurisdiction to creatively solve problems, they need to legislate this explicitly.
This is the cunning argument deployed (which involves assuming that when the MCA says “Court” it means only the Court of Protection, not the High Court, even though in practice, as here, it is likely to be the same Judge, sitting in the same room, who just metaphorically puts on a different hat for a moment.
93. (1) The prohibition on making an order which authorises the person being deprived of his liberty is expressly restricted to the Court of Protection exercising its statutory jurisdiction under the MCA and is not, but could have been, extended to the High Court exercising its inherent jurisdiction.
(2) Following McFarlane LJ in DL, the clear implication is that Parliament did not intend to prevent the High Court exercising its jurisdiction to make an order in the best interests and in order to uphold the Article 2 rights of a person lacking capacity in the circumstances of a case such as this.
(3) Furthermore, Parliament cannot have intended to remove the safety net from a person lacking capacity who requires the orders sought to be made in order to prevent his death.
(4) The relevant concept is his ineligibility to be “deprived by this Act” (section 16A(1) and schedule 1A at paragraph 2).
(5) If a person is ineligible to be deprived of his liberty by the MCA, section 16A provides that “the court may not include in a welfare order provision which authorises the person to be deprived of his liberty”. In this provision:
(a) “The court” means the Court of Protection; and
(b) “the welfare order” means an order under section 16(2)(a) of the Mental Capacity Act by the Court of Protection.
I agree with those submissions.
So, having determined that the Court had power under the Inherent Jurisdiction (which is like the legal equivalent of Duct Tape, or perhaps more accurately Polyfilla to cover up the cracks), the Judge then had to consider whether he should go on to use that power.
- the court, as a public authority, cannot lawfully act in a way that is incompatible with a right under ECHR. I accept the submission that I am under an operational duty under Article 2 to protect Dr. A., a man who, as I have found, lacks capacity to decide whether to accept nutrition and hydration against the risk of death from starvation. By making the orders sought by the Trust under the inherent jurisdiction, I will be complying with that operational duty.
- In all the circumstances, I hold that this court has the power under its inherent jurisdiction to make a declaration and order authorising the treatment of an incapacitated adult that includes the provision for the deprivation of his liberty provided that the order complies with Article 5. Unless and until this court or another court clarifies the interpretation of section 16A of the MCA, it will therefore be necessary, in any case in which a hospital wishes to give treatment to a patient who is ineligible under section 16A, for the hospital to apply for an order under the inherent jurisdiction where the treatment (a) is outside the meaning of medical treatment of the MHA 1983 and (b) involves the deprivation of a patient’s liberty.
- Under that jurisdiction, I am satisfied, for the reasons set out above, that an order for forcible feeding of Dr. A. is in his best interests. I therefore make the orders sought by the applicant Trust, that is to say declaring that it shall be lawful for the Trust clinicians to provide Dr. A. with artificial nutrition and hydration and to use reasonable force and restraint for that purpose, and further declaring that, insofar as those measures amount to a deprivation of liberty, they shall be lawful.
An elegant fix of a mess caused by Parliament.
There is a postscript update on Dr A, which may be of interest
98. On 1st July 2013 (before the transcript of the judgment was finalised) the Trust notified my clerk that Dr A had returned to Iran, having made, in the doctors’ opinion, a capacitous decision to do so. I received statements from Drs R and WJ and correspondence from the parties, detailing the clinical decisions and events, which preceded his departure. I am informed that Dr A had continued to be provided with artificial nutrition and hydration requiring restraint. He also received amisulpride, an anti-psychotic. His mental state gradually improved, in response to the medication. Dr A started drinking and eating voluntarily on 8 and 10 May respectively. His weight returned to a level within a normal range. The Trust states that Dr A first mentioned he was returning to Iran on 23 May 2013. He made the final decision on 4 June 2013; after taking medical advice and legal advice from his immigration solicitor. On 14th June 2013 Dr WJ rescinded Dr A’s detention under section 3 MHA; his mental condition having continued to improve. He returned to Iran on 24 June 2013. I will now make an order concluding these proceedings, discharging the declarations and the order for a review hearing.