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Defying the Court of Protection – is there such a thing as committal in Court of Protection?

 

 

MSAM v MMAM 2015 is a Court of Protection case tackling something for the first time.

 

In this case

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/3.html

 

Mrs MMAM is 76. Her health deteriorated and she was living in parlous conditions at home. Following assessments, it was felt that she lacked capacity to make decisions for herself and was unable to remain in her own home.

 

The Court of Protection considered the case and made the following declarations on 20th February 2014 :-

 

“It is hereby declared pursuant to S.48 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that: it is lawful and in the First Respondents best interest to continue to reside and receive care at X residential home and any deprivation of her liberty occasioned by residing there is approved by the Court pursuant to S.4 A16 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.”

 

 

On 1st April 2014, MMAM’s grandson attended the X residential home and removed her from that home, the manager of the home believing that he had no legal authority to prevent this.

 

 

It is important to note that she was then removed to Saudi Arabia, and also important to note that MMAM’s son (MSAM) had been a party to the Court of Protection proceedings and had not been challenging the plan at that hearing.

 

 

On the 1st April 2014 Mrs MMAM left the jurisdiction. I have been told she is currently residing in Saudi Arabia. On the morning 1st April the Second Respondent (Grandson) took Mrs MMAM from the X road residential home. He did so with the compliance of the manager who believed that he had no legal basis to prevent such a course. He was apparently told that Mrs MMAM was going with her grandson to the Saudi Arabian Embassy. She was taken there and her travel documents were provided which appeared to have enabled her to be booked on the very next available flight from London to Jeddah which left that evening. The grandson purports to outline the events of that day in his statement dated the 13th May. I say without hesitation that I found his account to be self serving and disingenuous. The description of what is said to be Mrs MMAM’s behaviour on that day bears absolutely no relationship to anything I have read about her in any other document. At paragraph 8 the grandson states

 

“We took a taxi to the Embassy arriving just before 10am, my grandmother, without entering security, had found the way to the meeting ahead of me. Once I had introduced her, I left her to discuss her affairs as I had understood from my father I should not participate in discussing the case with officials and her in any detail. A few hours went by, I was summoned and asked to accompany my grandmother to a place where food was given to her and then we were taken to a rest facility. Little later someone from the embassy came to take her and I was told to return home and that they would contact me as required.”

If that was indeed in any way accurate and Mrs MMAM had been left on her own at the Embassy, in my view, she would have been, on the basis of everything I have read, confused and probably rather frightened. The statement is entirely unconvincing. In the paragraphs that follow any aspiration to credibility is lost, if not abandoned.

 

“That night the manager from X road called me regarding my grandmother, I said she must still be with the embassy staff if she wasn’t back at X road. Someone from the Local Authority also contacted me, he asked me whether I felt she was safe or not? I told them I believe she was and would contact them if I heard anything. I then received a call to let me know that my grandmother was safe, ‘not to worry’ and I relayed the message to staff…. the next day I heard news that my grandmother was in Saudi Arabia.”

Later he states:

 

“The manner and speed of her repatriation has taken me by surprise. I do not want to speculate on the matter but I’m aware the situation has pleased my grandmother and family. Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, the time constrained medical condition made the embassy action inevitable; though I do not believe any of the people aware of my grandmother’s appointment with the embassy expected it and I certainly did not.

‘I would like to thank the court for its measured consideration and on behalf of both myself and my grandmother I want to express our gratitude to Judge Batton, the staff of X Road and the doctors. I am eternally grateful to found, in all of them, definitely the living personification of the oath undertaken by each of them.”

The picture presented is a complete fabrication. This old, sick, largely incapacitous lady further burdened by an ‘abnormal belief system’ would simply not have been able to function effectively or autonomously in the way the grandson asserts. It is clear from the above passages that the grandson was acting entirely on his father’s instructions. That is the dynamic of their relationship which I have observed for myself in the courtroom at previous hearings. The reference to “the time constrained medical condition” sadly relates to the fact that Mrs MMAM is suffering from metastasised bowel cancer. The statement requires recasting in reality. Mr MASM and his son have plainly colluded to defeat the declaration made by this court. Mr MASM has done so notwithstanding that he acquiesced to the declaration made and drafted in the terms that it was. He was the applicant in this litigation. In my judgement he has acted with cynical disregard to the objectives of this process and, in the light of the declarations drawn, it must follow that his actions are entirely inconsistent with the best interests of this vulnerable and incapacitous woman, who is of course his own mother. The reasons for this planned deception are not immediately clear, but I draw from this history and from the actions of these two men that their motivation is likely family’s financial self-interest. It seems to me that if Mr MASM had genuinely believed that his mother’s interest did not lie in her remaining in the residential unit for the reasons Dr Arnold said then he had every opportunity to put those conclusions to the assay by cross examination. He chose not to do so despite being represented by counsel.

 

 

The legal question then arose :-

 

  1. Was this action a breach of the Court of Protection’s declaration and authorisation of Deprivation of Liberty?
  2. And if so, what are the sanctions for such a breach

 

 

Within the law relating to children, these sort of actions have been going on for a long time, and it is settled law that a breach of a Court order can lead to an application for committal for contempt of court, and to imprisonment if the breach can be proved to the criminal standard of proof. But this is new to Court of Protection cases.

 

Though this case raises important issues of law and practice it must be emphasised that conduct of the kind seen here is rare, indeed in my experience it is unprecedented. Many of the litigants who come before the Court of Protection are at a time of acute distress in their lives, as a cursory glance at the case law of this still fledgling court will show. The issues could not be more challenging, not infrequently they quite literally involve decisions relating to life and death. Inevitably, some litigants do not achieve their objectives neither wholly nor in part but they respect the process. More than once I have observed that the importance to a family of being heard in decisions of this magnitude matters almost as much as the outcome itself. Sometimes the medical and ethical issues raised are such that NHS Trusts seek the authorisation of the court to endorse or reject a particular course of action. The court ultimately gives its conclusion by declaration both in relation to lawfulness and best interests. The terms of these declarations often cannot and indeed should not seek to be too prescriptive.

 

Keehan J reviewed the powers of the Court of Protection to enforce its orders (and note the criticisms of the LA for its ‘supine’ response)

 

The Court of Protection’s powers of enforcement are extensive. The Court has in connection with its jurisdiction the same powers, rights and privileges and authority as the High Court (COPR 2007, R89) which means that it may find or commit to prison for contempt, grant injunctions where appropriate, summons witnesses when needed and order the production of evidence. (COPR 2007, part 21 makes further provision RR183-194). The relevant practice directions (PD21A) and “practice guidance notes” deal with Contempt of Court, Applications for enforcement may also be made; the CPR relating to third party debt orders and charging orders are applied as are the remaining rules of the Supreme Court 1965 in relation to enforcement of judgments and orders and writs of execution fieri facias (writs and warrants of control, post April 2014) All this said the Court of Protection jurisdiction is limited to the promotion of ‘the purposes of’ (my emphasis) the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) and, it follows, the appropriate order may be, from time to time, to direct the Deputy or some other person to take proceedings of a different kind in another court where the objectives fall outside the remit of the MCA.

 

Finally, of course, the court may direct penal notices to be attached to any order, warning the person of the consequences of disobedience to the order i.e. that it would be a contempt of court punishable by imprisonment and or a fine (or where relevant sequestration of assets). An application for committal of a person for contempt can be made to any judge of the Court of Protection by issuing an Application Notice stating the grounds of the application supported by affidavit in accordance with practice directions. (COPR 2007 makes additional provisions). In addition to this the court may make an order for committal on its own initiative against a person guilty of contempt of court which may include misbehaviour in the face of the court.

 

Initially the Local Authority considered that it had been comprehensively thwarted by Mr MASM’s unilateral actions. In a response which I considered to be supine, they advance no opposition to Mr MASM’s application to withdraw the proceedings. I was roundly critical of that reaction. Mrs MMAM had been rescued from squalor and neglect. I have been shown photographs of her previous living conditions. Her grandson, the man who negotiated what he calls her “repatriation” was living in the same house as his grandmother whilst her circumstances had reduced to the parlous conditions that I have described. In addition, Mrs MMAM lacked capacity in relation to medical, welfare and litigation decisions. Moreover she was in addition gravely ill physically. Local Authority’s simply have to absorb the extent of their responsibilities in these challenging cases. Vulnerable adults must be protected every bit as sedulously as vulnerable children. I emphasise that it is the safeguarding obligation that is similar- I do not suggest that vulnerable adults and children should be regarded as the same. Accordingly, I asked the Local Authority, the Official Solicitor and Mr MASM to reflect on the questions identified in paragraph 13 above.

I

 

 

Rather interestingly, both the LA and the family were submitting to the Court that the Court of Protection’s power in terms of making a declaration of best interests was a narrow one, limited to making a declaration of what was in MMAM’s best interests and not to making a prohibitive order.

 

If the declaration of interests was looked at in that way, the Court had not, and could not, make an order that prohibited the family removing MMAM and thus there was no order that could amount to a contempt of Court or a committal for contempt.

 

The Official Solicitor took a different view (and placed reliance on amongst others, a case called Long Wellesley, involving wardship and an MP removing his daughter from wardship without permission)

 

The Official Solicitor distils from these authorities the following propositions, namely that where:

 

  1. i) an application was issued in the Court of Protection specifically seeking the Court’s permission to remove P from the jurisdiction;

 

  1. ii) the court was seized of the matter;

 

iii) the court declared on an interim basis that it is in P’s best interests to live at a certain address within the jurisdiction;

 

  1. iv) it follows that a party, with knowledge of the application and court’s orders would commit a contempt of court by removing or organising for the removal of P from the jurisdiction without the court’s permission.

 

It is contended that this amounts to a contempt of court, even when no injunctive order has been made. In essence the argument is:

 

  1. i) the principles of wardship and parens patriae should apply to the Court of Protection, given the supervisory and protective nature of the Court of Protection’s jurisdiction, and P should be protected as would a ward of court and/or because;

 

  1. ii) such a person would be deliberately treating the declaratory order of the court as unworthy of notice.

 

 

 

So, the question is :- is a declaration of best interests something that if a person knows of it and thwarts it, a contempt of Court? Or is that only the case if the Court has the power to, and decides to, make an order that is prohibitive in nature and clear on the face of the order what a breach would be and what the consequences of breach might be.

 

That is, the difference between an order that says:-

 

It is in MMAM’s best interests to live at 22 Tupperware Court, Ker-Plunk

 

And

 

It is in MMAM’s best interests to live at 22 Tupperware Court, Ker-Plunk and her son and grandson shall not remove her from that property nor instruct others to do so. [and when sent to her son and grandson, the order also says “you must obey this order. If you do not, you may be sent to prison for contempt of court”]

 

You don’t often have cases in family law (or Court of Protection) where the litigation about the Spycatcher book is important, but in this one, it was an important part of the judicial reasoning as to what the status of a declaration of best interests was.

 

[It is a fascinating analysis, but beyond the scope of this piece – if you are interested in the fine detail, the judgment is well worth reading]

 

 

Drawing the strands of the case law, the legal framework and the agreed facts together, the following points emerge:-

 

  1. i) The Court made clear personal welfare decisions on behalf of an incapacitated woman which every party agreed to be in her best interests;

 

  1. ii) Breach of Court Orders even in the absence of a Penal Notice may nonetheless potentially be a contempt where there is a wanton disregard for the court’s decision;

 

iii) Some case law also suggests that in the exercise of the parens patriae any action hampering the objectives of the court is an interference with the administration of justice and therefore a criminal contempt see RE B(JA) (an infant) 1965 CH1112 at P1117:

 

‘any action which tends to hamper the court in carrying out its duty [to protects it’s ward] is an interference with the administration of justice and a criminal contempt’

 

 

If that third point applied to vulnerable adults, then a contempt of court could arise in circumstances where a person just hampered or interfered with the best interests decision, rather than in circumstances of the second point (wanton disregard for the Court’s decision)

 

The Official Solicitor was arguing in relation to that third point that in terms of safeguarding vulnerable adults and safeguarding children, the same principles applied in full. Keehan J was more guarded

 

 

Addressing the Official Solicitor’s argument in relation to actions hampering the exercise of the parens patriae I do not consider that the jurisdiction I am exercising here equates seamlessly with the exercise of the parens patriae or wardship jurisdiction in relation to children. Nor do I consider that Munby J intended to go so far in Re SA (supra). Whilst both jurisdictions require there to be a sedulous protection of the vulnerable, there is a paternalistic quality to wardship which does not easily equate to and is perhaps even inconsistent with the protection of the incapacitous adult, in respect of whom capacity will or may vary from day to day or on issue to issue. There is in addition, the obligation to promote a return to capacity wherever possible. The Court of Protection has a protective and supervisory role but wardship goes much further, it invests the judge with ultimate responsibility. The child becomes the judge’s ward. There is no parallel in the Court of Protection and it would be wrong, in my view, to rely on this now dated and limited case law (identified by Mr McKendrick) to permit this Court to reach for a power which is not specifically provided for in the comprehensive legislative framework of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

 

The law in relation to children has also moved on from the landscape surveyed by Lord Atkinson in Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417, particularly since the inception of the Children Act 1989, drafted of course, with ECHR compatibility in mind. Lord Atkinson’s description of a ‘paternal and quasi domestic jurisdiction over the person and property of the wards’ has little resonance for practitioners for whom ‘family life’, protected under Article 8 of the ECHR, is evaluated by analysing competing rights and interests, where the autonomy of the child is also afforded great respect. Unsurprisingly and partly in response to the range of these principles the scope and ambit of wardship has reduced very considerably (Section 100 Children Act 1989 repealed Section 7 of the Family Law Reform Act 1969, the route by which the High Court had derived its power to place a ward of court in the care, or under the supervision of a Local Authority). Whilst Mr McKendrick is entirely right to draw this line of authority to my attention, the position in relation to wardship is, to my mind, largely anomalous, predicated as it is on the somewhat artificial premise that the court represents the Sovereign as parens patriae and cannot therefore be resolving contested issues as between the parties in an non adversarial arena (see Arlidge, Eady and Smith on contempt (4 edition) (Para 11-338). Mr McKendrick put much emphasis on the judgment of Munby J in Re SA (Vulnerable Adult with Capacity: Marriage) [2005] EWHC 2942 (Fam), [2006] 1 FLR 867, para 84. In particular he referred me to par 84:

 

“As I have said, the court exercises what is, in substance and reality, a jurisdiction in relation to incompetent adults which is for all practical purposes indistinguishable from its well-established jurisdiction in relation to children. There is little, if any, practical difference between the types of orders that can be made in exercise of the two jurisdictions.”

It is important to emphasise that Munby J whilst emphasising the similarity of the two jurisdictions ‘for all practical purposes’ also notes the essentially different, indeed unique, nature of the wardship jurisdiction, later in the same paragraph:

 

“The main difference is that the court cannot make an adult a ward of court. So the particular status which wardship automatically confers on a child who is a ward of court – for example, the fact that a ward of court cannot marry or leave the jurisdiction without the consent of the court – has no parallel in the case of the adult jurisdiction. In the absence of express orders, the attributes or incidents of wardship do not attach to an adult.”

 

 

Keehan J decided that ultimately, the third point did not apply to vulnerable adults, and that despite the family’s conduct being entirely inimical to MMAM’s welfare and wellbeing, what was needed for a contempt and a committal remedy in Court of Protection cases was an order drawn in a prohibitive way with a penal notice. Keehan J decided that the Court of Protection had powers under s16 Mental Capacity Act 2005 to make such orders arising from their declaration of best interests

 

 

Ultimately, a declaration of best interests connotes the superlative or extreme quality of welfare options. It by no means follows automatically that an alternative course of action to that determined in the Declaration, is contrary to an individual’s welfare. There may, in simple terms, be a ‘second best’ option. For this reason, such a declaration cannot be of the same complexion as a Court Order. It lacks both the necessary clarity and fails to carry any element of mandatory imperative. I am ultimately not prepared to go as far as Mr McKendrick urges me to and elevate the remit of the Court of Protection, in its welfare decision making, to such a level that anything hampering the court in the exercise of its duty, or perpetrated in wanton defiance of its objectives is capable, without more, of being an interference with the administration of justice and therefore criminal contempt. Such an approach would it seems to me be entirely out of step with the development of our understanding of the importance of proper and fair process where the liberty of the individual is concerned. I would add that this has long been foreshadowed by the recognition that the necessary standard of proof in a application to commit is the criminal standard.

 

 

Moreover, though my order of 20th February 2015 was expressed to have been made pursuant to section 16, it was drafted in declaratory terms. As such, for the reasons I have set out above, it cannot, in my judgement, trigger contempt proceedings. There cannot be ‘defiance’ of a ‘declaration’ nor can there be an ‘enforcement’ of one. A declaration is ultimately no more than a formal, explicit statement or announcement. That said I emphasise that Mr MASM, in fact acted, through the agency of his son, in a way which was cynically contrary to his mother’s best interests. The course he took was not a ‘second best’ option but one entirely inimical to his mother’s welfare, physically, mentally and emotionally. He has frustrated the objectives of the litigation but he is not, as I ultimately find, acting in defiance of an order and therefore is not exposed to contempt proceedings.

 

 

 

As a result, there was no legal power, from the orders that were in placed, to lodge a committal notice or to commit the family to prison for their actions. All that Keehan J could do was to criticise them for their actions and order that they pay the costs of this hearing (which were probably considerable, given the amount of legal research that was needed – once people get into reading Spycatcher and 1831 cases about dubious MPs http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1831/jul/19/privilege-case-of-mr-long-wellesley not to mention the entire law of contempt, wardship and penal notices, the costs do mount up)

 

He also suggested that the LA should probably think very hard about whether it was sensible for the son to remain MMAM’s deputy with powers over her financial affairs.

 

As for more general guidance

 

 

Such guidance as I can give can only be limited:

 

  1. i) Many orders pursuant to Section 16 seem to me to be perfectly capable of being drafted in clear unequivocal and even, where appropriate, prescriptive language. This Section provides for the ‘making of orders’ as well as ‘taking decisions’ in relation to P’s personal welfare, property or affairs. Where the issues are highly specific or indeed capable of being drafted succinctly as an order they should be so, rather than as more nebulous declarations. Where a determination of the court is capable of being expressed with clarity there are many and obvious reasons why it should be so;

 

  1. ii) In cases which require that P, for whatever reason, reside at a particular place the parties and the court should always consider whether to reinforce that order, under Section 16, by a declaration, pursuant to Section 15, clarifying that it will be unlawful to remove P or to permit or facilitate removal other than by order of the court;

 

iii) In cases where the evidence suggests there may be potential for a party to disobey the order or frustrate the plans for P approved by the court as in his best interest, the Official Solicitor or Local Authority should consider inviting the court to seek undertakings from the relevant party. If there is a refusal to give undertakings then orders may be appropriate;

 

  1. iv) Where a potential breach is identified the Local Authority and/or the Official Solicitor should regard it as professional duty to bring the matter to the immediate attention to the court. This obligation is a facet of the requirement to act sedulously in the protection of the vulnerable;

 

  1. v) Thought must always be given to the objectives and proportionality of any committal proceedings see Re Whiting (supra).

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About suesspiciousminds

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

3 responses

  1. Residential Care Home X will be mourning the loss of its exhorbitant fees, but otherwise we should all cheer for the old girl outwitting her captors and returning home to her family.
    Sounds like she had more capacity than the rapacious Court of Protection asserted.
    Never mind .Whatever was left in her estate will by now have been greedily swallowed up by all those lawyers “acting in her best interests ” !

  2. When the Court of Protection by its conduct brings itself into general disrepute, it ill-behoves it to complain subsequently that its decisions are treated with contempt!

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