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The Supreme Court ignore my new Act

Having laboured over the drafting of brand new legislation to avoid any disputes about where people live,  https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/07/03/the-residenceschmesidence-act-2015/  I am disappointed that the Supreme Court did not take the opportunity to pick up that particular baton and run with it.

 

And if you thought that people were litigating about ordinary residence too much BEFORE, just you wait.

 

The Supreme Court in R (on the application of Cornwall Council) 2015  https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2014-0092-judgment.pdf  were dealing with a tricky scenario.

 

P had been a child, and when he was a child, had been placed in foster care in Wiltshire. This was in 1991.  As part of his care, Wiltshire PLACED him in South Gloucestershire.   When P became an adult, his needs were such that he required accommodation under the National Assistance Act 1948.  His needs are estimated to cost about £80,000 per year and he is likely to need them for the remainder of his life, so the issue of which Local Authority pays is liable to cost millions.

P’s parents, when he was an adult, moved to Cornwall; who also got dragged into this, despite him never having set a foot in Cornwall until 2004 and only then on a short visit to his parents.  We also add into the mix that accommodation was found for P in Somerset.

 

It is real law-exam stuff.  I wrote about how the High Court resolved it here (back in 2012), and I obviously developed some form of mental scarring as a result, because when the Court of Appeal decision came in, I couldn’t even face looking at it.    (I’ve not sold this link, but if you are a masochist, or you are trying to decide whether to quit law forever and just want something to tip you over the edge, here it is  https://suesspiciousminds.com/2012/12/27/as-clear-as-a-bell-if-the-bell-were-made-out-of-mud/

 

[I’ll assume that you rightly skipped that link]

 

The majority opinion of the House of Lords is that where a Local Authority accommodate a young person, and that person then goes on to require adult services, there’s no break in ordinary residence just because they happened to put him in another area.  The LA who started the case off, keeep hold of the responsibility, even though the case moves from being a child case to an adult case, and moves from one Act to another.

 

54. The question therefore arises whether, despite the broad similarity and obvious underlying purpose of these provisions (namely that an authority should not be able to export its responsibility for providing the necessary accommodation by exporting the person who is in need of it), there is a hiatus in the legislation such that a person who was placed by X in the area of Y under the 1989 Act, and remained until his 18th birthday ordinarily resident in the area of X under the 1989 Act, is to be regarded on reaching that age as ordinarily resident in the area of Y for the purposes of the 1948 Act, with the result that responsibility for his care as an adult is then transferred to Y as a result of X having arranged for his accommodation as a child in the area of Y.

55. It is highly undesirable that this should be so. It would run counter to the policy discernable in both Acts that the ordinary residence of a person provided with accommodation should not be affected for the purposes of an authority’s responsibilities by the location of that person’s placement. It would also have potentially adverse consequences. For some needy children with particular disabilities the most suitable placement may be outside the boundaries of their local authority, and the people who are cared for in some specialist settings may comefrom all over the country. It would be highly regrettable if those who provide specialist care under the auspices of a local authority were constrained in their willingness to receive children from the area of another authority through considerations of the long term financial burden which would potentially follow.

 

That does make a degree of sense.  Firstly, if a Local Authority caring for P as a child, could remove any burden on caring for him as an adult by placing him in another local authority area, then these vulnerable individuals could become subject to a game of pass the parcel (but where you DON’T want to be holding the parcel when the music stops). Secondly, Local Authorities who had made provisions or had specialist facilities in their area for children could end up receiving a higher number of such children and then having to go on to care for them as adults. And thirdly, Local Authorities might jealously guard their borders, not being willing to accommodate children on behalf  of other Local Authorities who might be trying to shift the burden of responsibility in adulthood.

 

The majority opinion therefore concludes

 

59. In other words, it would be wrong to interpret section 24 of the 1948 Act so as to regard PH as having been ordinarily resident in South Gloucestershire by reason of a form of residence whose legal characteristics are to be found in the provisions of the 1989 Act. Since one of the characteristics of that placement is that it did not affect his ordinary residence under the statutory scheme, it would create an unnecessary and avoidable mismatch to treat the placement as having had that effect when it came to the transition in his care arrangements on his 18th birthday.

 

[The Supreme Court do not use this guache term, but in a reductive sense, the law on ordinary residence where a Local Authority places a young person in another area and that young person then needs services as an adult is “He who smelt it, dealt it”]

 

But see Lord Wilson’s stirring dissenting opinion, and it is hard not to disagree with his conclusions. What he says in effect is that the Supreme Court majority opinion is deciding the law not on the basis of a legal interpretation or following precedent, but deciding on which outcome has the better public policy implications.  This is all even better if, like me, you choose to imagine that Lord Wilson has the same speaking voice as John Le Mesurier used for Sergeant Wilson.  (“Are you sure that’s wise, sir?”)

 

I believe that this might be my FOURTH Dad's Army illustration on the blog...

I believe that this might be my FOURTH Dad’s Army illustration on the blog…

 

 

 

62. My colleagues consider that, in making his determination under section 32(3) of the National Assistance Act 1948 (“the 1948 Act”) of the place of PH’s ordinary residence on 26 December 2004 for the purpose of section 24(1) of the same Act, the Secretary of State could lawfully have reached only one conclusion. It is, according to them, that on that date, which was the day prior to his 18th birthday, PH was ordinarily resident in a county (Wiltshire):

a) in which in May 1991, ie about 13 years earlier, he had ceased to live upon his removal to live with the foster parents in South Gloucestershire;

b) to which, during the following 13 years, he never returned, not even just to stay overnight;

c) in which in November 1991, ie also about 13 years earlier, his parents had ceased to live upon their removal to live in Cornwall;

d)in which by 1997, ie about seven years earlier, both sets of his grandparents had, in one case because of relocation and in the other because of death, ceased to live; and

e) in which, from 1997 onwards until many years after 26 December 2004, no home remained available, even in principle, for his occupation.

63. Such is a conclusion to which, with great respect to my colleagues, I do not subscribe. It is a conclusion for which no party has contended at any stage of these proceedings. A court should tread cautiously before favouring a solution devised only by itself, particularly where, as here, it has been addressed by an array of excellent counsel instructed by public authorities widely experienced in this area of the law.

 

Whether you agree with Lord Wilson or not, you have it say that to be able to pour so much information into such a condensed and easy to follow two paragraphs is masterful.

 

He goes on

 

 

 

65. I must squarely confront the problem. There appear to be strong reasons of public policy which militate in favour of imposing upon Wiltshire, rather than upon South Gloucestershire, the obligation of making decisions about a suitable placement of PH following his 18th birthday and of funding whatever placement may thereafter be suitable for him from time to time. It would be a heavy financial burden for Wiltshire but its burden in the case of PH would be borne to the same extent by some other local authority in a reverse situation: in other words the burdens should even out. Public policy suggests:

a) that it is desirable that a local authority which has exercised the decision-making power (and has borne the funding burden) in relation to the placement of a mentally incapacitated minor should, in the light of its knowledge of his needs, continue to exercise that power (and bear that burden) following the attainment of his majority; and

b) that it is undesirable that a local authority which is exercising the decision-making power (and bearing the funding burden) in relation to the placement of an incapacitated minor should, while he remains a minor, be able to place him in a suitable facility in the area of another local authority (indeed, in the case of a private placement, without the consent of that local authority), with the result that, following the attainment of his majority, the decision-making power and, in particular, the financial burden should fall upon that other local authority. In the present case, for example, the evidence suggests that Wiltshire’s placement of PH in 1991 with his excellent specialist foster parents did not in any way involve the local authority of South Gloucestershire, which for the following 13 years appears to have played no part in directing or securing his care. Yet, on my analysis, it is South Gloucestershire which should thereafter have begun to exercise the decision-making power and, in particular, to bear the financial burden. The Secretary of State accepts that, of the young people who move from being looked after by local authorities as minors to being provided with accommodation by them as adults, those lacking capacity are only a small proportion. But he explains convincingly that, in the light of their specialised needs, the cost of maintaining them indefinitely is very high. He proceeds to identify real concerns that a few local authorities might therefore be motivated (to use the crude shorthand which, only for convenience, has been deployed in the hearing before this court) to “export” such a minor to the area of another local authority prior to the attainment of his majority; and equally that, were that other local authority to be the administrator of a specialist resource entirely suitable to the needs of a minor, it might nevertheless be motivated to refuse him admission to it for fear of the financial consequences following the attainment of his majority.

 

66. But such is the result which in my view the law, as it stands, clearly compels. I am not a legislator. Nor, with respect, are my colleagues.

 

Whether the case should be decided on law or public policy  (and I agree with Lord Wilson – if the Supreme Court start to decide cases on what it considers to be the best outcome for public policy then we are on a slippery slope), the Supreme Court have not really considered the real public policy outcome here.

 

If Local Authority A and Local Authority B are arguing about which area is responsible for providing care for little Tommy, then at the moment, they fight like cat and dog about meeting those costs for a maximum of 18 years.  Following this decision, the loser of that argument could, if little Tommy is going to require accommodation throughout his adult life, be stuck with those costs for 80-90 years.

Now, using your skill and judgment, do you think that those arguments will as a result become :-

(a) more amicable; or

(b) more contentious

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About suesspiciousminds

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

2 responses

  1. My fellow history-geeks will remember that parishes used to fight about the “settlement” of what were then called paupers – and in the Seventies there were similar arguments about homeless persons and which council must house them. Plus ça change . . .

  2. Pingback: The Supreme Court ignore my new Act | Legal In ...

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