The Court of Protection, in Aidiniantz v Riley 2015 were dealing with a high level of conflict between family members relating to the affairs of an 88 year old woman who lacked capacity to manage her own finances and other matters as to where she should live.
The family had been the creators of the Sherlock Holmes museum in Baker Street, which one imagines does quite well and probably has been doing even better in recent years as both Hollywood, US television and the BBC have each had their very own popular version of the character.
At the hearing, the Judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson, found that the press were in attendance. It emerged that the press had been sent a press release about the case – that press release was not a neutral one approved by the Court but a partial, tendentious and sensationalised one.
- A preliminary point arises about the extent to which the proceedings can be reported. They were heard in private, in accordance with the Rules, at a hearing at which members of the press were in attendance. Two questions now arise: should the press be allowed to report the hearing, and should there be a public judgment naming the parties? Submissions have been made by the parties and by David Barrett and Mario Ledwith, journalists representing the Telegraph Media Group and Associated Newspapers respectively.
- It is relevant that on 25 September a media alert was issued by a PR company, notifying members of the media that this hearing would be taking place. The alert is in highly partisan terms, and includes lengthy quotations attributed to Stephen. It was this that brought the journalists to court.
- The respondents, having initially denied that they were responsible for the arrival of the press, were then faced with the press alert. They say that it was issued on the instructions of Mr Siddiqi and that the quotes from Stephen are not genuine but were invented by Mr Siddiqi to convey Stephen’s views. They say that they did not know what Mr Siddiqi had done until the hearing was under way.
- I have not heard evidence about this aspect of the matter and it is unnecessary to reach a conclusion about it. Mr Siddiqi is described by the respondents as “a long-time friend/associate of the family who has closely followed and advised the family on their affairs.” I am, to say the least, sceptical that he was acting without the knowledge and approval of the respondents, but it makes no difference. Even if Mr Siddiqi did not tell them what he was doing, he knows them well enough to know that he was doing what they wanted. Indeed, Linda made all the points that appear in the media alert when giving evidence.
- The relevance of this is that it alerts the court to the risk that the proceedings will be used as a platform to publicise unproven allegations.
The Press were very candid that their interest in the story was not in the arrangements to be made about Grace Aidiniantz, but in the quarrel that was going on between the family – it was the fight that they were interested in.
The Judge had to balance those competing interests – privacy and freedom of the press, our old friends article 8 and article 10 who have been arm-wrestling one another ever since the Human Rights Act was passed.
[Hey, if I HAD a google image of Johnny Lee Miller arm-wrestling Benedict Cumberbatch whilst both dressed as Sherlock Holmes, I would have gone with that. I have to work with what I have. Oh, wait…]
- As to the issue of publication of this judgment and the naming of the parties, Mr Tyler QC submits that:
(2) There is scant genuine public interest in publication of the current proceedings. The press is avowedly not interested in the issues about Mrs Aidiniantz’s care, but in the family dispute.
(3) Mrs Aidiniantz’s privacy and dignity should be protected, even though she is incapacitated.
(4) John has brought these proceedings in good faith, and should not thereby be exposed to vilification by the respondents. His wife and children would also be affected by publicity, as might employees of the family business.
(5) Litigants generally should not be deterred from approaching the Court of Protection by the fear of consequent publicity.
(6) Public identification of the parties to this “private family dispute” is unlikely to bring reconciliation closer and is likely to fuel conflict.
- The position taken by the journalists is that: (1) This is the latest in a long line of public disagreements between the parties that have been extensively reported in the press, evidenced by news reports from 2013 onwards.
(2) The disagreement about Mrs Aidiniantz’s health is not in itself of public interest but is the current forum for the ongoing family dispute, which is of public interest, particularly given the family’s business interests.
(3) Anonymisation of the judgment would make it impossible for the press to report this latest chapter in the very public disagreements between the parties.
(4) Blanket reporting restrictions are not required to protect Mrs Aidiniantz’s privacy and dignity. There is no intention to report details of her care arrangements or medical condition, beyond saying that she is aged and infirm.
- There is in my view good reason for the court to publish its judgment in this case in a form that names the individuals involved:(1) Happily, very few families descend to the level of mutual acrimony that exists in this family. It is in the public interest for the public, if it is interested, to see the consequences. It is in the public interest to know how the court process operates in a recognizable case. It is in the public interest to know what it all costs: in the past year this family has spent £270,000 on this branch of its litigation alone. It is not in the public interest to suppress all that information: on the contrary, knowledge of how one family has behaved may deter another family from behaving likewise.
(2) In this case, publication of an anonymised judgment would be futile. So much information is already in the public domain that any anonymised judgment would inevitably be linked to the family. The press would be placed in an impossible situation in knowing what it could and could not report.
(3) It is undesirable that there should be any greater difference of approach than is necessary between two courts dealing with different but related aspects of the same dispute. As recently as 4 June 2015, an extensive public judgment in relation to financial issues was given in the Chancery Division.
(4) This is not just “a private family dispute”. These parties have repeatedly chosen to air their differences in the courts. There is little likelihood of reconciliation. A public judgment will not make matters any worse for Mrs Aidiniantz than they already are. The parties might even reflect on their future conduct if they know that it may come to public attention.
(5) Mrs Aidiniantz’s right to privacy and dignity is undoubtedly an important consideration. Even though she herself will not be aware of publicity, her reputation is affected by it being known that she is at the heart of the family discord. However, in the overall circumstances, I do not consider that the publication of this judgment amounts to a significant further intrusion into her privacy. It contains little personal information and makes no criticism of Mrs Aidiniantz: on the contrary, any fair-minded reader would be bound to feel sympathy for an elderly parent in her situation.
- The contents of this judgment can therefore be published, but there will be no other reporting of the hearing.
The Judge sets out all of the background, for those who are interested. He then gives his decision, saying that unusually this is a case where in determining what is in Grace’s interests he can give no weight to the views of the family
- It is not disputed that Mrs Aidiniantz lacks capacity to make decisions about the matters in issue within the meaning of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, and I so find. I also consider that as a result of her circumstances she is a vulnerable person in need of the protection of the court.
- It therefore falls to the court to make decisions in Mrs Aidiniantz’s best interests, applying the provisions of s.4 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. In doing so, it must consider all the relevant circumstances and, in particular, take the following steps:
- Consider whether it is likely that Mrs Aidiniantz will at some time have capacity in relation to the matter in question.
- So far as reasonably practicable, permit and encourage her to participate as fully as possible in the decisions affecting her.
- Consider Mrs Aidiniantz’s past and present wishes and feelings, the beliefs and values that would be likely to influence her if she had capacity, and the other factors that she would be likely to consider if she were able to do so.
- Take into account the views of anyone engaged in caring for Mrs Aidiniantz or interested in her welfare as to what would be in her best interests.
- While it is possible that if Mrs Aidiniantz’s physical health improves she may recover some degree of decision-making capacity, this is not foreseeable at the present time.
- Mrs Aidiniantz has participated as fully as possible in the decision-making process by means of the involvement of Mr Gillman-Smith, Ms G and Ms Gieve.
- Mrs Aidiniantz is someone with strong family values, whose already much-reduced ability to assert herself has long been overborne by the ferocity of the family conflict. She would want to be at home if it were possible. She would want to have normal, easy relations with all her children if it were possible.
- The obligation to take into account the views of those caring for Mrs Aidiniantz or interested in her welfare takes me to the heart of the difficulty in this case. I am aware of the views of her four adult children and have set them out above.
- Having done that, I have concluded, uniquely, that I should attach no weight at all to their views about their mother’s welfare. These children have, in my view, forfeited the right to have their views taken seriously on the question of what is in their mother’s best interests. They have no insight into her obvious longing for peace. The evidence of John and Linda showed only bitterness and contempt for each other. Neither side sees how important the other is to their mother. None of them reflects on their own behaviour. Instead, every action is dictated by the wish to get the better of the other. I have referred to John’s aggressive efforts to get Stephen and Ruth out of 1 Parkgate Road and his willingness to put his mother in a home he knows nothing about. I have referred to the respondents’ blatant attempts to obstruct John’s contact. As soon as Mrs Aidiniantz’s voice was heard by outsiders, however faintly, they physically removed her; in 2014 it was to Linda’s home, and a year later to the day it was to Florida. That trip was a blatant defiance of the court’s intentions and it is a measure of their lack of insight that the respondents imagine that it would be seen in any other way.
- Nor can I attach weight to the views of Ms AH. Normally the views of a professional carer in the midst of a family dispute will be of value, but she has become too emotionally involved and partisan to see where Mrs Aidiniantz’s best interests lie.
- I have some sympathy for Mrs Aidiniantz’s sister Ruth, but she is in the same camp as Linda, Stephen and Jennifer and has not been able to moderate their behaviour.Decision
- Turning to the issues and taking account of all the circumstances, I conclude that it would not be in Mrs Aidiniantz’s interests to return to 1 Parkgate Road. In the first place, I accept the evidence of Ms G that she needs the care package that is on offer at the nursing home. Two medically qualified staff are needed at all times. Ms AH and those she enlists to help her are unqualified and unsuited to demonstrating the necessary professional standards. Secondly, and more decisively, it is impossible to approve an arrangement that returns Mrs Aidiniantz to her home when her children have turned it into a warzone. If John took over 1 Parkgate Road, things would be no better. Mrs Aidiniantz needs a safe haven from her children’s activities, and that is what she has found in the nursing home. She would not have this respite in a setting that was controlled by either camp.
- The family collectively has the means to pay for Mrs Aidiniantz’s care in the nursing home. When promoting their preferred options, both John and Linda said that they would pay for them if necessary but would expect a contribution from the other. Now that the identity of the placement has been resolved, the family should act in accordance with that principle.
- As to contact, I will adopt the plan supported by the nursing home and the Official Solicitor for separate daily visiting by both sides of the family. Outings that are acceptable to the home on medical grounds can take place, but I suggest that visits to 1 Parkgate Road are approached with caution.
- Each side of the family can bring whoever they want with them during their contact times, provided the home is content with this. There is no more reason to prevent John from bringing his family than to prevent Jennifer from bringing hers. If she is invited by the respondents, Ms AH can visit from time to time, but she will not be resuming her role as a carer. If anyone thinks it is a good idea for Mr Siddiqi to visit, they can share their time with him.
- I note that the Official Solicitor proposes that visiting should be restricted to family members and that contact with others can take place on trips outside the home. He expresses concern about the role played by Ms AH and Mr Siddiqi. There is in fact no sign of any harm having come from their few visits to date and, given the way in which the family members themselves behave, I cannot share the view that the exclusion of other partisans would allow Mrs Aidiniantz to feel “free of influence”. The management of the home should be left to manage these issues.
- While Mrs Aidiniantz resides at the care home, there is no need for a welfare deputy. The management of the home will protect her day-to-day interests.
- Finally, I shall not appoint a property or affairs deputy, nor require the Official Solicitor to carry out further financial inquiries into Mrs Aidiniantz’s affairs. I agree with the Official Solicitor that any financial abuse of the elderly is a serious matter, but that here a third party investigation would be complicated, expensive and unlikely to be of benefit to Mrs Aidiniantz, whose needs are currently being met. I will make the appropriate orders for the reception of her modest pensions. Other disputes about money, property and shares can be pursued by her children elsewhere if that is their choice.Costs
- The parties can make submissions on costs, and I will consider them on their merits. I will nonetheless indicate my current thinking in an attempt to foreshorten matters and save further expense.
- The parties’ costs are, broadly: John £104,000
Official Solicitor £57,000
The Official Solicitor has been given security from the parties equally for the full amount of his costs. There is no reason why the public should bear any of those and I expect to order that the Official Solicitor’s costs will be met equally by the parties.
- As to costs as between the parties, the normal rule is that there should be no order. Each side rightly cautions the court against assuming that because there are so many allegations and counter-allegations it is a case of “six of one and half a dozen of the other”. I make no such assumption but nevertheless reach the conclusion that there is little to choose between these parties in regard to their litigation conduct and their conduct towards their mother. While the respondents’ conduct during these proceedings has been even worse than the applicant’s, it would be unrealistic to separate these matters from the overall history. Any departure from the ‘no order’ principle would probably be in the form of an order that each side should pay the other side’s costs as a mark of the court’s indignation.