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Capacity to consent to sex – do you want a Hanc or a Hunc?

Mostyn J has just given a ruling in the Court of Protection  – London Borough of Tower Hamlets and TB 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/53.html

Within this case, Mostyn does two significant things.

 

The first is that he refines his own test for capacity to consent to sexual intercourse, and is much persuaded by Hedley J’s formulation.

Regular readers will be aware that the Court of Protection’s usual approach to capacity to consent to sexual intercourse is to look at three issues :-

 

(a) Understanding of the mechanics

(b) Understanding of the health risks

(c) Understanding of the risk of pregnancy.

 

Mostyn J says that he has changed his mind as to whether that is the right test

Although I am not going so far as figuratively to hold my hand in the flames like Cranmer I have had cause to reconsider my previous opinion.

 

Before Mostyn J, legal argument took place that bears some resemblance to that discussion in Gremlins 2 about whether a Mogwai is fed after midnight if he is on a plane crossing the international date line…

  1. I deal first with the pregnancy element. In A Local Authority v TZ [2013] EWCOP 2322 Baker J concluded at para 31 that in the case of a person clearly established to be homosexual it is ordinarily unnecessary to establish that he or she has an understanding or awareness that sexual activity between a man and a woman may result in pregnancy. In this case Mr McKendrick argues that because TB has had an IUD inserted she is in an equivalent position. The argument became increasingly far-fetched. We discussed a man who has had a vasectomy. A woman who is beyond childbearing. A man wearing a condom. Mr McGuire QC rightly captured the unreality of this debate in his final submissions when he said:

    “But following this link produces nonsensical results. What if a woman happens to have fertility issues? Or is already pregnant? Or is beyond childbearing age? Would knowledge of this link be irrelevant for a man? “

 

And as a result, Mostyn J decided that it would be best for the third part of the test to simply form part of the second part (health issues)

I have come to the conclusion that the third element of risk of pregnancy should not be a separate one. Rather it should be subsumed into the second which should simply be expressed as: “that there are health risks involved”. All sexual activity has some health risks. The most obvious ones are pregnancy or STDs. But over-robust sexual activity can cause wounding or bruising, external or internal. Any sexual activity can cause psychological harm. A simple criterion as I have suggested would resolve the dilemma I expressed in para 43 of D Borough Council v AB [2011] EWCOP 101, which on reflection came perilously close to introducing a quoad hanc dimension when I had been at pains to repudiate that.

 

If you are wondering what quoad hanc means   [i.e you are not my regular commentor Andrew, or David Burrows] it raises its head in this judgment here, where Mostyn J raises a complaint that a formulation is unnecessarily overcomplicated and goes on to explain it in Latin.   (I am biting my tongue here)

The first thing that the cases have decided is that the test for capacity to consent to sexual relationships is, to use rather laboured language, general and issue specific, rather than person or event specific: see IM v LM [2014] EWCA Civ 37 at para 79. In canonical language the incapacity must be quoad hunc not quoad hanc, in contrast to the position under section 12(a) Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 where the incapacity to consummate may be on either basis[2].

Quoad Hanc is where someone is not able to have sex with a particular individual, and Quoad Hunc is where they are not able to have sex with anyone.  i.e the difference between not being able to have sex with Hank (perhaps because he has body odour) and not being able to have sex even with a hunk (because you just can’t have sex with anyone)

 

[I am sure Andrew and David will be able to put it better than I have]

Having digressed a bit, is the capacity to consent to sexual intercourse test now just

(a) Understanding of the mechanics, and

(b) Understanding of the health risks  ?

 

Well, not so fast there Hank.

Mostyn J reminds himself and us that he had previously been asked to consider whether the understanding of the ability to say “yes” or “no” to sex should be a factor, and had rejected this. He has now changed his mind, and gives credit to Hedley J in relation to this

  1. I now turn to the question whether the relevant information should include as a separate element an awareness that lawful sex requires the consent of all parties and that that consent can be withdrawn at any time. In my previous decision of D Borough Council v AB I accepted at para 35 that I should not conflate the capacity to consent to sex and the exercise of that capacity. Therefore I rejected Dr Hall’s third head of capacity.
  2. In this case the OS agrees that being able to say yes or no to sexual relations is part of the weighing process under section 3(1)(c), and that this is made explicit by the terms of section 3(4)(a). Notwithstanding this concession Ms Greaney disputes that it should be an independent head of awareness because to do so would conflate capacity with the necessary exercise of free will. She argues that consent is the product of capacity and the exercise of free will.
  3. However, in A Local Authority v H [2012] EWHC 49 (COP) Hedley J with his customary erudition, sensitivity, lucidity and eloquence convincingly persuades me that I was wrong then, and that the OS is wrong now. At para 25 he said this:

    “And so one turns to the emotional component. It remains in my view an important, some might argue the most important, component; certainly it is the source of the greatest damage when sexual relations are abused. The act of intercourse is often understood as having an element of self-giving qualitatively different from any other human contact. Nevertheless, the challenge remains: can it be articulated into a workable test? Again I have thought long and hard about this and acknowledge the difficulty inherent in the task. In my judgment one can do no more than this: does the person whose capacity is in question understand that they do have a choice and that they can refuse? That seems to me an important aspect of capacity and is as far as it is really possible to go over and above an understanding of the physical component. “

  4. In my judgment this simply cannot be gainsaid. It was accepted by everyone in this case that sex between humans must involve more than mere animalistic coupling. It is psychologically a big deal, to use the vernacular. Hedley J’s formulation captures perfectly why and how that extra ingredient should be defined.
  5. Therefore I conclude that when determining the question of sexual capacity under the MCA the relevant information as referred to in section 3(1)(a) comprises an awareness of the following elements on the part of P:

    i) the mechanics of the act; and

    ii) that there are health risks involved; and

    iii) that he or she has a choice and can refuse.

    I would add that the excellent witness Dr Joyce was of the firm view that this third element was very important. I would also suggest, with all due humility, that the test as formulated by me has the merit of simplicity.

I have to say that for my part, I prefer this revised three part test.  I did have to quickly check whether it clashes with the Court of Appeal in Re IM v LM 2014 and I don’t believe that it does. So this is now the new test to be used.

 

[In the instant case, the woman understood the mechanics, understood that she enjoyed sex but did not understand that she could say no. Her husband for religious reasons believed that it was her duty to have sex with him on request – her general level of functioning was that of an 8 year old. Mostyn J held that she did not have capacity to consent to sex on the basis that she had no understanding of her ability to say no]

 

The second issue of import in the judgment was that there was a Deprivation of Liberty Element – this woman wanted to go back to her husband and was being prevented from doing so. In part because he intended to have sex with her about twice a week and she lacked capacity to consent.

That allowed Mostyn J to revisit his decision in Rotherham. And if you think that he has softened on that, as he has changed his mind on the capacity test, you are wrong.

  1. My decision of Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council v KW [2014] EWCOP 45 has aroused a certain amount of criticism. For example, Sarah Lambert, the head of policy for the National Autistic Society has stated that:

    “This decision appears to directly contravene the Supreme Court’s ruling that liberty must mean the same for all, regardless of disability.

    Any move to revisit or unpick this definition would be a huge step back. NAS is deeply concerned that this decision will create avoidable confusion and uncertainty among health and social care professionals, potentially undermining essential protections for people with autism.”

  2. The appeal in Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council v KW will be heard by the Court of Appeal on 4 or 5 February 2015.
  3. If nothing else, I think it is important that I meet the criticism that I have sought to encroach on essential protections for disabled people, and amplify my reasoning.
  4. In para 17 of my decision I said this:

    “It is clear that the driving theme of the majority opinions is a denunciation of any form of discrimination against the disabled. With that sentiment I naturally wholeheartedly agree. Discrimination is found where like cases are not treated alike. However, when making Lord Kerr’s comparison you do not have two like cases. You are comparing, on the one hand, a case where an 18 year old does not need protection and, on the other, a case where the 18 year old does. They are fundamentally dissimilar. The dissimilarity justifies differential treatment in the nature of protective measures. For me, it is simply impossible to see how such protective measures can linguistically be characterised as a “deprivation of liberty”. The protected person is, as Mill says, merely “in a state to require being taken care of by others, [and] must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury”. And nothing more than that. In fact it seems to me to be an implementation of the right to security found in Article 5. “

  5. The suggestion that “the dissimilarity justifies differential treatment in the nature of protective measures” was not a personal idiosyncrasy. It is justified by high authority

Mostyn J goes on to set out those authorities, but I will pass over those – they are available in the judgment if you wish to see them.

57…The state is obliged to secure the human dignity of the disabled by recognising that “their situation is significantly different from that of the able-bodied”. Thus measures should be taken “to ameliorate and compensate for [those] disabilities.”

  1. But to characterise those measures as state detention is to my mind unreal. I referred to the historical context in which Article 5 of the ECHR 1950 came to be formulated. It followed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948 which in its preamble referred to “the disregard and contempt for human rights [which] have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”; which in article 3 guaranteed liberty; and which in article 9 proscribed “arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” It was aimed at the midnight knock on the door; the sudden disappearance; the prolonged detention. Article 5 was not aimed at Katherine, seriously physically and mentally disabled, who is living in her own home and cared for round the clock by carers paid for by an organ of the state.
  2. In this case TB will not be cared for at a place which she understands to be her home. Further, she has the motor functions to achieve a departure in a meaningful sense. She will be monitored round the clock and were she to leave to try to go “home” she would be brought back. Her situation is therefore very different to Katherine’s, and the acid test is met. Although I personally cannot see that her situation amounts to state detention in any sense other than by reference to the term of art devised by the majority in the Supreme Court, I must loyally follow that decision. I therefore declare that TB’s care regime does involve detention under Article 5. Accordingly there must be at least six-monthly reviews by this Court, no doubt at some considerable expense to the public purse.
  3. At para 1 of my decision in Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council v KW I referred to the very serious resource implications to local authorities and the state generally if periodical court reviews are required in such cases. 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

 

There’s some force in that – the Supreme Court have, in setting out the law, put many thousands of people in living circumstances which now amount to a breach of article 5, and the Court of Protection is going to be swamped with cases. Mostyn J has taken a pragmatic line, and we wait to see if the Court of Appeal think the same.  For my part, I think that the Supreme Court captured this point and the fact that on the ground it has enormous consequences for very many cases doesn’t detract from the principle.  The Supreme Court have explained what the test is, and the fact that it is going to have massive repercussions can only go so far.

 

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

One response

  1. Mostyn J’s law is better than his Latin.

    Quoad Hanc is where someone is not able to have sex with a particular woman, and Quoad Hunc is where she is not able to have sex with a particular man; Hanc being the female and Hunc the male form of the pronoun.

    The best Latin for the case where someone is not able to have sex with anyone would be Quoad Omnes or in one word Omnino.

    Things have changed since the days of Peter Cook, haven’t they?

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