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“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)

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About suesspiciousminds

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

4 responses

  1. The truly disgraceful thing in most of these cases is the isolation of the “subjects” and deprivation not of their liberty but of their contact with relatives (Ben’s mother) and friends who “God forbid” might say something “innappropriate” at contact !
    The gracious permission recorded in the judgement for Ben to “masturbate” in the privacy of his unlocked room to fulfill his sexual needs seems pretty “innappropriate”enough to me.
    Speaking personally, that would have been ok when I was 13 or 14 but pretty dire for a adult !

  2. I know young men like Ben and you would probably be as alarmed at the risk they can pose to others if not supervised in this way as you are at his lack of freedom. All rights are a balance.

    • I’m not alarmed at his lack of freedom. There’s a mechanism to ensure that if he is deprived of liberty, a Court can rule that this is in his best interests. What troubles me is when despite the Supreme Court making it very clear that deprivation of liberty is a concept that applies to everyone, and that this is decided on the facts not the person’s vulnerabilities, that we have cases trying to pull us back to the Court of Appeal interpretation which robbed these people of that protective mechanism.

  3. Pingback: “I know it when I see it” – ...

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