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Local Authority lawyers should grow a pair

This post contains 95 per cent of your Recommended Daily Allowance of Sarcasm and 119% of your Recommended Daily Allowance of Dopiness

 

Well, it isn’t quite put like that, but it isn’t far off.   I appreciate that for a substantial amount of my compatriots, it isn’t even biologically possible.

 

You see, it turns out that the adoption statistics are our fault.  We all knew that there was about to be a blame game  (heaven forbid that anyone should even consider whether the direction of travel might be a good thing, or a bad thing or a neutral thing before embarking on the blame exercise), but it turns out that the finger points at Local Authority lawyers, who, as I say, are going to be told to ‘grow a pair’

[Even though I speculated today that the next judicial edict would be that the LA final evidence must be written in iambic pentameter and rather than being typed, the social worker would have to sew it using cross-stitch, this rather surprised me.  “It turns out that the Bayeux Tapestry was really just contact notes”… I fully anticipate that Dallas PD will be questioning all Local Authority lawyers about JFK shortly]

 

Martin Narey, Adoption Czar  (or is it Tsar? I can never remember, but it always does remind me that the career trajectory of Czars and Tsars, both in historical leader sense and in political oversight sense hasn’t been that stellar) has given a speech at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

 

He is thus talking to the uber-bosses of all social workers, the capo del tutti capi of social workers.

Whilst I’m not the largest flag-waving champion of Mr Narey, and I’m unlikely to ever make his Christmas card list, I will give credit where it is due. He has put that speech up online, so that people can read it. He didn’t HAVE to do that, so good on him for doing it.

Flag is going back in the cupboard now.

 

It isn’t really surprising that he opens with a discussion about the adoption statistics. To be fair (oh, flag coming back out), if you’re the Adoption Czar and there’s a big political drive to get adoption numbers up, then when they absolutely tank, you’re BOUND to want to do something about that. If you don’t, then you’re sort of redundant. Probably literally as well as figuratively.

 

Mr Narey refers to the drop being a result of two major Court decisions, Re B and Re B-S, and reminds us all that he helped to produce a Myth-Busting document that picked up a lance and slew the dragon of misconception, so these adoption figures should recover, thanks to his intervention.

 

He talks about the number of ADM decisions for Placement Orders to be sought going down 52% last year, and he says this    (If I’m crabby here, it is only PARTLY because I can’t cut and paste from his slides and have had to type the whole thing out. Only PARTLY)

 

“But these are not as a result of the Courts rejecting Placement Order applications in vast numbers. The drop is overwhelmingly explained by a drop in Local Authority Placement Order applications. They have dropped from 1,830 to 910, a decrease of almost exactly half.

 

Unless you believe that all those adoption decisions you made last year were not in the interests of those children, I urge you to ensure that your social workers and lawyers have not lost their nerve, and the President’s exhortation that you must follow adoption when that is in the child’s best interests is followed. If current figures do not recover, then over time, we shall see adoption numbers drop back very substantially indeed.

 

I don’t think adoption can ever be suitable for other than a minority of children in care. But I think that minority is probably more than 5,000 or just 7% of the care population”

 

Well, where to start?

As an argument “Unless you believe that all those adoption decisions you made last year were not in the interests of those children”  so get out and make some more – ideally 50% more , leaves a lot to be desired. Firstly, it is an emotive appeal. Secondly, saying ‘If you think all those cases where you recommended adoption, you were right’ inexorably leads to   ‘a lot of the ones where you didn’t, you must be wrong’ is some strange use of logic that I’m not familiar with.  Of course ADMs who make a decision that adoption is the right plan for a child do so believing that this is in the best interests of the child. But why on earth should that mean that they were wrong with those that they rejected?

That’s like saying  “remember all those times you bet on Red in the casino and you won? Well, forget about the times that you bet on Red and lost, or you bet on Black and won, clearly betting on Red is the right approach. Go heavily into Red. “

Next, if you think that Local Authority lawyers have lost their nerve, then you need to get out in the trenches with us. There has NEVER been a harder time to be a Local Authority lawyer.  I don’t say this to garner sympathy (I know that many of my readers think that lawyers, and LA lawyers in particular, are the devil incarnate – they are wrong, it is just me), but it is the truth.  It is breathtakingly offensive to say that we have lost our nerve.

Nor have social workers.

 

Perhaps the Adoption Tsar doesn’t know that actually, a lawyers’ job is to give advice but take instructions. We don’t EVER say to a social worker that they can’t put forward a plan of adoption or ask the Agency Decision Maker to approve that plan. We tell them whether or not such a plan is likely to succeed in Court, and we tell them what the strong and weak points of their case is, and we give them advice on what they can do to improve the weak points and how to present their evidence in the way that the Courts now require.

What we do not do, is advise the ADM  “you should approve adoption here”  or “this isn’t an adoption case”.  Even back in the days of Adoption Panel, where a lawyer sat in the same room as the Panel when they made the decision about whether it was an adoption case or not, we didn’t get to make any representations about it or to vote.  Our role was, and still is, limited to giving advice on any legal issues that arise, not to advise the ADM on the merits or otherwise of the case.

 

Mr Narey’s argument here is presumably, theat if Local Authorities had asked the Court to make 1,830 Placement Orders after Re B-S, the Court would have made them.   (And perhaps if we’d asked for 4,000, the Court would have made them too).

 

The reason the adoption statistics dropped was because we were stupid and didn’t understand Myth-Busting !  (TM)  or because we were too timid to ask the question – social workers and Local Authority lawyers have been metaphorically teenagers who want to ask someone out but end up not being able to get a word out when we are near the subject of our affections. What Mr Narey is saying to us is “Hey, that person you like is TOTALLY into you, and they would TOTALLY say yes if you asked them to go to the pictures with you”

It is of course telling that with that 52% drop in applications for Placement Orders, I have not heard of a SINGLE case where a Judge seized of all of the facts and evidence, said to the Local Authority “I cannot believe that you are putting forward a plan that doesn’t involve adoption here, I really think that you should reconsider”  , or given judgments that say “none of the options put forward for this child are sufficient to safeguard their well-being, and I adjourn the final hearing so that matters can be reconsidered”

 

 

I think that it is interesting that whilst this speech makes great play of the President’s decision in Re R, and even quotes from it approvingly, it misses out two really major elements of Re R.

 

The first is this one:-

 

in the final analysis, adoption is only to be ordered if the circumstances meet the demanding requirements identified by Baroness Hale in Re B, paras 198, 215.’

 

[And to save you flipping back to Re B, that, precisely, is THIS

 

para 198: “the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do.” 

para [215]:

“We all agree that an order compulsorily severing the ties between a child and her parents can only be made if “justified by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests”. In other words, the test is one of necessity. Nothing else will do.” ]

 

If a Judge makes a Placement Order without engaging with that test, the judgment will be deficient. If a Local Authority present their case without striving to meet that test, their evidence will be deficient.

The Court of Appeal in Re R also made it plain that all of the stipulations laid down in Re B-S about the quality of the evidence, the need for robust and rigorous child-specific analysis of all of the realistic options and the Court not proceeding in a linear manner still stand.

 

The second omission is of course,

On 11 November 2014 the National Adoption Leadership Board published Impact of Court Judgments on Adoption: What the judgments do and do not say, popularly referred to as the Re B-S myth-buster. This document appears to be directed primarily at social workers and, appropriately, not to the judges. It has been the subject of some discussion in family justice circles. I need to make clear that its content has not been endorsed by the judiciary.

 

I have set out before, here, what the Court do and do not say in Re R     http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/view-from-the-foot-of-the-tower-two-steps-forward-two-steps-back

 

As I said in that piece, the ‘myths and misconceptions’ that the Court of Appeal were slaying were the ones that nobody actually believed were right – even the lawyers advancing those claims that “Re B-S means that if the positives and negatives aren’t set out in tabular form, adoption must be rejected” didn’t actually believe what they were saying.  (It’s one of the advantages of being a lawyer, you don’t have to believe what you are saying in order to say it…)

 

Mr Narey is quite right that the Court of Appeal are clear that where the only option that will meet a child’s needs is adoption, that’s the order that should be sought, and the Court will adjudicate on it. If the social worker thinks that of all of the realistic options, adoption is the only one that can meet the child’s needs, then they can and should go to the ADM to seek approval of that plan. And likewise, if the ADM thinks that, then they can and should approve the plan. And likewise, if the Court conclude that, they can and should make the adoption order.

 

That is encapsulated by this passage

‘[44] … Where adoption is in the child’s best interests, local authorities must not shy away from seeking, nor courts from making, care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders. The fact is that there are occasions when nothing but adoption will do, and it is essential in such cases that a child’s welfare should not be compromised by keeping them within their family at all costs.’

 

If a social worker, or an ADM think that this test is made out, then there’s no reason at all why they shouldn’t put forward a plan of adoption. It might be that when the evidence that lead them to think that is tested in the burning crucible of cross-examination, it is found wanting, but that’s how litigation works.

 

I can’t help but note that Mr Narey in his speech quotes a section of the President’s judgment from Re R  [what he doesn’t do is quote all of the bits in italics are a key part, which rather change the meaning if you ENTIRELY miss them out]

 

It is apparent, and not merely from what Miss James and Miss Johnson have told us, that there is widespread uncertainty, misunderstanding and confusion, which we urgently need to address.

[41] There appears to be an impression in some quarters that an adoption application now has to surmount ‘a much higher hurdle’, or even that ‘adoption is over’, that ‘adoption is a thing of the past.’ There is a feeling that ‘adoption is a last resort’ and ‘nothing else will do’ have become slogans too often taken to extremes, so that there is now “a shying away from permanency if at all possible” and a ‘bending over backwards’ to keep the child in the family if at all possible. There is concern that the fact that ours is one of the few countries in Europe which permits adoption notwithstanding parental objection is adding to the uncertainty as to whether adoption can still be put forward as the right and best outcome for a child.

[42] There is concern that Re B-S is being used as an opportunity to criticise local authorities and social workers inappropriately – there is a feeling that “arguments have become somewhat pedantic over ‘B-S compliance’” – and as an argument in favour of ordering additional and unnecessary evidence and assessments. It is suggested that the number of assessments directed in accordance with section 38(6) of the Children Act 1989 is on the increase. It is said that when social worker assessments of possible family carers are negative, further assessments are increasingly being directed: “To discount a kinship carer, it seems that two negative assessments are required.” There is a sense that the threshold for consideration of family and friends as possible carers has been downgraded and is now “worryingly low”. Mention is made of a case where the child’s solicitor complained that the Re B-S analysis, although set out in the evidence, was not presented in a tabular format.

[43] We are in no position to evaluate either the prevalence or the validity of such concerns in terms of actual practice ‘on the ground’, but they plainly need to be addressed, for they are all founded on myths and misconceptions which need to be run to ground and laid to rest.

[44] I wish to emphasise, with as much force as possible, that Re B-S was not intended to change and has not changed the law. Where adoption is in the child’s best interests, local authorities must not shy away from seeking, nor courts from making, care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders. The fact is that there are occasions when nothing but adoption will do, and it is essential in such cases that a child’s welfare should not be compromised by keeping them within their family at all costs.

 

I appreciate, space is at a premium and when you’re giving a speech you don’t necessarily want to quote great chunks of a judgment, but when you quote as selectively as this, you are turning a passage in a judgment that is saying that where really ridiculous arguments about Re B-S are being used, those are fallacies into something which suggests that Re B-S says nothing of any consequence at all.  It is just plain misleading.

 

Ignore for a moment the “nothing else will do” formulation (although, as outlined above, it is still good law, just not in the ludicrously over-literal way that the Court of Appeal were initially using it).  These are the other changes in child protection law and adoption law since Re B.

 

1. The test for an appeal Court is now whether the Judge was  “wrong” and not whether the Judge was “plainly wrong”.  That is a substantial change, and makes the risk of being appealed in a judgment notably higher.

2. The Court can no longer proceed on a linear analysis.  They MUST look at the pros and cons of each option. This is not a small thing. Prior to this decision, the process was always “look at parent, if no, then look at family member, if no then adoption is all that is left, ergo the ‘last resort’ element is satisfied, it is the last resort because there isn’t anything left”.   If a Local Authority are making a case for adoption, they have to not only show the flaws in the other options, but that the benefits of adoption outweigh the FLAWS in adoption. That requires social workers to fully engage and grapple with the benefits AND flaws of adoption both in general and for a particular child.  If the Adoption Leadership Board want to tackle a single issue, rather than Jedi-hand-waving that ‘this law hasn’t changed, you may go about your business’, training that better equips social workers to do this and proper impartial and evidence-based research about those benefits and flaws would be a damn good start.

3. The rigorous analysis and evidence required as a result in Re B-S is still required.

Let’s look specifically at the example of social work analysis on why adoption was right for a child that the Court of Appeal tore to bits in Re B-S

“a permanent placement where her on-going needs will be met in a safe, stable and nurturing environment. [S]’s permanent carers will need to demonstrate that they are committed to [S], her safety, welfare and wellbeing and that they ensure that she receives a high standard of care until she reaches adulthood

Adoption will give [S] the security and permanency that she requires. The identified carers are experienced carers and have good knowledge about children and the specific needs of children that have been removed from their families …”

 

Prior to 2013, that wasn’t only the sort of thing that you’d see in a social work statement explaining why adoption was the right outcome for a child, it was actually one of the better ones. Prior to 2013, I’d have put that in the top 10% of attempts in a social work statement to explain the benefits of adoption.  This was an A minus attempt.

Let’s look at what the Court of Appeal said

With respect to the social worker … that without more is not a sufficient rationale for a step as significant as permanent removal from the birth family for adoption. The reasoning was in the form of a conclusion that needed to be supported by evidence relating to the facts of the case and a social worker’s expert analysis of the benefits and detriments of the placement options available. Fairness dictates that whatever the local authority’s final position, their evidence should address the negatives and the positives relating to each of the options available. Good practice would have been to have heard evidence about the benefits and detriments of each of the permanent placement options that were available for S within and outside the family.

 

. Most experienced family judges will unhappily have had too much exposure to material as anodyne and inadequate as that described here by Ryder LJ.

40. This sloppy practice must stop. It is simply unacceptable in a forensic context where the issues are so grave and the stakes, for both child and parent, so high.

 

I’ll say it again, because this is important. A formulation that I would have put in the top 10% of analysis that I’d been seeing pre 2013 was DESTROYED by the Court of Appeal as being completely inadequate.  An A minus attempt was given an E.   Whether or not Re B-S changed any legal tests, it certainly raised the bar massively for the standard of evidence and analysis required.

 

4. The test for leave to oppose adoption was dramatically reduced.  Prior to Re B-S, such applications were rare and also very easy to shut down. All you needed was to quote Thorpe LJ in Re W  “However, it cannot be too strongly emphasised that that is an absolute last ditch opportunity and it will only be in exceptionally rare circumstances that permission will be granted after the making of the care order, the making of the placement order, the placement of the child, and the issue of the adoption order application.”  and draw the Court’s attention to the facts of Re P, where parents who had gone on to have another child and keep that child, with no statutory order, hadn’t been sufficient to get them leave to oppose.   Now, the test is substantially reduced.   In particular, these two elements from Re B-S.

 

iii) Once he or she has got to the point of concluding that there has been a change of circumstances and that the parent has solid grounds for seeking leave, the judge must consider very carefully indeed whether the child’s welfare really does necessitate the refusal of leave. The judge must keep at the forefront of his mind the teaching of Re B, in particular that adoption is the “last resort” and only permissible if “nothing else will do” and that, as Lord Neuberger emphasised, the child’s interests include being brought up by the parents or wider family unless the overriding requirements of the child’s welfare make that not possible. That said, the child’s welfare is paramount.

 

and

vi) As a general proposition, the greater the change in circumstances (assuming, of course, that the change is positive) and the more solid the parent’s grounds for seeking leave to oppose, the more cogent and compelling the arguments based on the child’s welfare must be if leave to oppose is to be refused.

 

5.  As we have seen, more leave to oppose applications are being made, and more have been granted.  We also see that the Courts have given judgments in cases where adoption applications have been successfully opposed. To date, the reported cases are where a parent has been able to show that another family member could care for the child instead of prospective adopters who have had the child for 13-18 months.  Such a decision would have been unthinkable in 2012, but they are happening now.  What that means is that if a Court is being invited to make a Placement Order, and the LA are inviting the Court to do so, they have to have good, cogent evidence as to why family members are not suitable instead.  If they don’t get that exercise right first time round, then the child will pay the price when at an adoption hearing 15 months later, the Court may be removing the child from adopters and placing with those family members.

 

 

All of those things, and Lady Hale’s formulation are real things.  It does nobody any favours to ‘jedi-hand-wave’ them out of existence, particularly by chopping up a quote from a judgment so that a person reading it would think that the Court of Appeal had said:-

There appears to be an impression in some quarters that an adoption application now has to surmount ‘a much higher hurdle’, or even that ‘adoption is over’… those impressions are based on myths and misconceptions  

 

when those three little dots are missing out all of the actual substance.

 

Parliament has created a statutory power of adoption. The tests have been laid down in the Act. The Courts have interpreted how those tests are to be delivered in practice.  The Lady Hale formulation in Re B is the test that the Courts will be working towards. To pretend otherwise is misleading.

It does remain the case that where a Local Authority can show that none of the other options before the Court can meet the child’s needs, adoption is an option that they can legitimately pursue.

 

It’s disengenous to pretend that people didn’t understand that.  If social workers and lawyers and ADMs hadn’t grasped that, then there would have been NO applications for Placement Orders.  The numbers went down because the difficulty in obtaining a Placement Order from the Court went up.

 

 

If the social workers, lawyers and ADMs had ‘held their nerve’ in 2013 and made the same number of Placement Order applications, then the Court would have rejected them in huge numbers.  Maybe they all should have done, and let it become the Court’s problem.

Two years later, the same might not still be the case.  Firstly, the over-literal over-prescriptive appeals seem to have died down a bit. Secondly, social workers have got more used to the rigorous standards that are required in terms of their evidence and are better equipped to present their evidence to those standards.

 

 

 

 

 

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A gilded cage is still a cage (Lady Hale finally wins one!)

If you do Court of Protection work, you have probably been waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision in Cheshire West and Chester, which is here

http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKSC/2014/19.html

 

 The Supreme Court decided unanimously that P’s liberty was being deprived, and on a 4-3 split that MIG and MEG’s liberty was being deprived. [Yes, a 4-3 split in which Lady Hale finished on the winning side. A 4-3 split does, however indicate that the issues are difficult and that it wasn’t an easy decision or foregone conclusion – they also overturned the Court of Appeal on these two linked cases]

 At the same time, they dismantled the Court of Appeal’s notion that a factual determination of whether someone’s liberty was being deprived was a subjective comparison with what would be reasonable to do for someone of similar characteristics. This is also, as far as I know,  the first finalised deprivation of liberty decision applying to a person living in a foster placement rather than a care home or hospital.

 If you do only care or children work, you’ve probably never heard of Cheshire West, or MIG and MEG, or possibly even DoLs; but just in case you think you can cheerfully ignore all of them, give me one paragraph of your time, to convince you that you ought to learn a bit about this case.

 

The President has issued guidance saying that Deprivation of Liberty applications don’t apply to children under 17 (he is right), and that if there is in a child’s case a deprivation of liberty issue then the mechanism is either detention under the Mental Health Act or an application for a Secure Accommodation Order. The Supreme Court here decided, on a 4-3 split, that what was happening to two young women (formerly children) in a foster care / residential home setting WAS a deprivation of liberty. And therefore, if this was happening to children in other cases, those other cases ought to be the subject of a Secure Accommodation application, or Mental Health Act intervention.

 

Children have historically been the subject of Secure Accommodation applications if they are absconding, or taking deliberate actions, but this case raises that if their liberty is being deprived as a result of their vulnerabilities or medical situation or functioning, that can still equate to a deprivation of liberty which needs to be sanctioned by the Court.

 

That is only the case if it is the State, or a limb of the State that is restricting the child’s liberty.

 

54. Similar constraints would not necessarily amount to a deprivation of liberty for the purpose of article 5 if imposed by parents in the exercise of their ordinary parental responsibilities and outside the legal framework governing state intervention in the lives of children or people who lack the capacity to make their own decisions.

 

 

I come back to this at the very end of the piece, so if you really don’t care about Court of Protection work, you can skip to the bottom.

 

What sort of restrictions were being applied to those young women, and why?  (I’ll call them MIG and MEG, as they were initially dubbed. This is interchanged in the judgment with P and Q, but because the Supreme Court were dealing with two cases interlinked  “P” and “MIG and MEG” / “P and Q”  I think it is confusing to have two separate “P” cases in the same discussion)

 

11. MIG and MEG are sisters who first became the subject of care proceedings under the Children Act 1989 in 2007, when they were aged respectively 16 and 15. MIG has a learning disability at the lower end of the moderate range or the upper end of the severe range. She also has problems with her sight and her hearing. She communicates with difficulty and has limited understanding, spending much of her time listening to music on her iPod. She needs help crossing the road because she is unaware of danger. MEG has a learning disability at the upper end of the moderate range, bordering on the mild. Her communication skills are better than her sister’s and her emotional understanding is quite sophisticated. Nevertheless, she may have autistic traits and she exhibits challenging behaviour.

 

  1. At the time of the final hearing before Parker J in 2010, MIG (then aged 18) was living with a foster mother with whom she had been placed when she was removed from home. She was devoted to her foster mother (whom she regarded as her “mummy”). Her foster mother provided her with intensive support in most aspects of daily living. She had never attempted to leave the home by herself and showed no wish to do so, but if she did, the foster mother would restrain her. She attended a further education unit daily during term time and was taken on trips and holidays by her foster mother. She was not on any medication.
  1. MEG (then aged 17) had originally been placed with a foster carer, who was unable to manage her severe aggressive outbursts, and so she was moved to a residential home. She mourned the loss of that relationship and wished she was still living with her foster carer. The home was an NHS facility, not a care home, for learning disabled adolescents with complex needs. She had occasional outbursts of challenging behaviour towards the other three residents and sometimes required physical restraint. She was also receiving tranquillising medication. Her care needs were met only as a result of continuous supervision and control. She showed no wish to go out on her own and so did not need to be prevented from doing so. She was accompanied by staff whenever she left. She attended the same further education unit as MIG and had a much fuller social life than her sister.

 

 

The original Court of Protection hearing decided that what was happening was NOT a deprivation of liberty, and that any restrictions were for the best interests of MIG and MEG and were justified.

 

The Court of Appeal agreed: [2011] EWCA Civ 190 [2012] Fam 170. Wilson LJ, who gave the leading judgment, laid stress on the “relative normality” of the sisters’ lives, compared with the lives they might have at home with their family (paras 28, 29), together with the absence of any objection to their present accommodation (para 26). Mummery LJ was also impressed with the “greater fulfilment in an environment more free than they had previously had” (para 52). Smith LJ, on the other hand, thought their previous arrangements were not relevant, but stressed that “what may be a deprivation of liberty for one person may not be for another” (para 40).

 

 

That sentence lays at the heart of the two appeals to the Supreme Court.  In the other case, involving an adult named P, the Supreme Court were unanimous that his liberty had been deprived.

 

  1. P was aged 38 at the time of the Court of Protection hearing. He was born with cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome and required 24 hour care to meet his personal care needs. Until he was 37 he lived with his mother, who was his principal carer, but her health began to deteriorate and the local social services authority concluded that she was no longer able to look after P. In 2009 they obtained orders from the Court of Protection that it was in P’s best interests to live in accommodation arranged by the local authority.
  1. Since November 2009, he had been living in Z house. This was not a care home. It was a spacious bungalow, described by an independent social worker as cosy and with a pleasant atmosphere, and close to P’s family home. At the time of the final hearing, he shared it with two other residents. There were normally two staff on duty during the day and one “waking” member of staff overnight. P received 98 hours additional one to one support each week, to help him to leave the house whenever he chose. He went to a day centre four days a week and a hydrotherapy pool on the fifth. He also went out to a club, the pub and the shops, and saw his mother regularly at the house, the day centre and her home. He could walk short distances but needed a wheel chair to go further. He also required prompting and help with all the activities of daily living, getting about, eating, personal hygiene and continence. He wore continence pads. Because of his history of pulling at these and putting pieces in his mouth, he wore a “body suit” of all-in-one underwear which prevented him getting at the pads. Intervention was also needed to cope with other challenging behaviours which he could exhibit. But he was not on any tranquillising medication.
  1. By the time of the final hearing before Baker J in April 2011, the principal issue was whether these arrangements amounted to a deprivation of liberty. Baker J held that P was completely under the control of the staff at Z House, that he could not “go anywhere, or do anything, without their support and assistance” (para 59). Further, “the steps required to deal with his challenging behaviour lead to a clear conclusion that, looked at overall, P is being deprived of his liberty” (para 60). Nevertheless it was in his best interests for those arrangements to continue: [2011] EWHC 1330 (Fam).

 

 

That decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal

 

The Court of Appeal substituted a declaration that the arrangements did not involve a deprivation of liberty: [2011] EWCA Civ 1257, [2012] PTSR 1447. Munby LJ, who delivered the leading judgment with which Lloyd and Pill LJJ agreed, developed the concept of “relative normality” adopted in P and Q, and considered it appropriate to compare P’s life, not with that which he had enjoyed before when living with his mother, but with that which other people like him, with his disabilities and difficulties, might normally expect to lead. As Lloyd LJ put it, “It is meaningless to look at the circumstances of P in the present case and to compare them with those of a man of the same age but of unimpaired health and capacity. . . . the right comparison is with another person of the same age and characteristics as P” (para 120).

 

 

This concept of ‘relative normality’ or ‘what might be a deprivation of liberty for one person might not be for another’ really lays at the heart of these appeals to the Supreme Court.  In essence, is whether someone is deprived of liberty an OBJECTIVE test, or a SUBJECTIVE test?

 

There is an excellent history of how the “deprivation of liberty” legislation came about in Lady Hale’s judgment, well worth a read.

 

There were a category of people who weren’t detained under the Mental Health Act, or under criminal legislation, but who were being effectively detained because they lacked the capacity to say “I want to leave” or that if they tried to leave weren’t allowed to do so.

 

This came to a head with a man named L, who took his case up to the House of Lords. R v Bournewood Community and Mental Health NHS Trust, ex p L [1999] 1 AC 458.  He had been living with foster carers, became agitated one day at a day care centre and was taken off to hospital, and the carers were not able to get him out. If he HAD been detained under any legislation, then the carers would have had access to legal routes to challenge the decision, but were left in a grey area where they and L seemed to have no rights at all.

 

The majority decision  of the House of Lords was that he had not been detained, and if he had been, it had been under the doctrine of necessity.

 

Lord Steyn disagreed, forcefully and  said

 

  1.  “Counsel for the trust and the Secretary of State argued that L was in truth always free not to go to the hospital and subsequently to leave the hospital. This argument stretches credulity to breaking point. The truth is that for entirely bona fide reasons, conceived in the best interests of L, any possible resistance by him was overcome by sedation, by taking him to hospital and by close supervision of him in hospital and, if L had shown any sign of wanting to leave, he would have been firmly discouraged by staff and, if necessary, physically prevented from doing so. The suggestion that L was free to go was a fairy tale.”

 

When the case went to the European Court of Human Rights, Lord Steyn was shown to be right, and went about his day without egg on his face.

 

  1. The case then went to the European Court of Human Rights as HL v United Kingdom (2004) 40 EHRR 761. The court agreed with Lord Steyn that HL had been deprived of his liberty. It found violations, both of the right to liberty, in article 5(1) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and of the right of a detained person to speedy access to a court which can order his release if his detention is not lawful, in article 5(4). Article 5(1)(e) permits the lawful detention of persons of unsound mind, but that detention has to conform to the Convention standards of legality, and the doctrine of necessity did not provide HL with sufficient protection against arbitrary deprivation of his liberty. The court was struck by the difference between the careful machinery for authorising the detention and treatment of compulsory patients under the Mental Health Act and the complete lack of any such machinery for compliant incapacitated patients such as HL.
  1. Key passages from the judgment are these:

“89. It is not disputed that in order to determine whether there has been a deprivation of liberty, the starting point must be the specific situation of the individual concerned and account must be taken of a whole range of factors arising in a particular case such as the type, duration, effects and manner of implementation of the measure in question. The distinction between a deprivation of, and restriction upon, liberty is merely one of degree or intensity and not one of nature or substance.

90. . . . . The majority of the House of Lords specifically distinguished actual restraint of a person (which would amount to false imprisonment) and restraint which was conditional upon his seeking to leave (which would not constitute false imprisonment). The court does not consider such a distinction to be of central importance under the Convention. Nor, for the same reason, can the court accept as determinative the fact . . . that the regime applied to the applicant (as a compliant incapacitated patient) did not materially differ from that applied to a person who had the capacity to consent to hospital treatment, neither objecting to their admission to hospital. The court recalls that the right to liberty is too important in a democratic society for a person to lose the benefit of Convention protection for the single reason that he may have given himself up to be taken into detention, especially when it is not disputed that that person is legally incapable of consenting to, or disagreeing with, the proposed action.

91. . . . the court considers the key factor in the present case to be that the health care professionals treating and managing the applicant exercised complete and effective control over his care and movements from the moment he presented acute behavioural problems on 22 July 1997 to the date he was compulsorily detained on 29 October, 1997. . . .

Accordingly, the concrete situation was that the applicant was under continuous supervision and control and was not free to leave. Any suggestion to the contrary was, in the Court’s view, fairly described by Lord Steyn as ‘stretching credulity to breaking point’ and as a ‘fairy tale’.”

 

 

As a result, it became necessary for the UK to introduce a statutory mechanism to deal with people like L, and that mechanism was the deprivation of liberty powers within the Mental Capacity Act 2005

 

Deprivation of liberty is not permitted under the Act save in three circumstances: (i) it is authorised by the Court of Protection by an order under section 16(2)(a); (ii) it is authorised under the procedures provided for in Schedule A1, which relates only to deprivations in hospitals and in care homes falling within the meaning of the Care Standards Act 2000 (see Schedule A1, para 178); (iii) it falls within section 4B, which allows deprivation if it is necessary in order to give life sustaining treatment or to prevent a serious deterioration in the person’s condition while a case is pending before the court.

 

Lady Hale goes on to say that the safeguards have the appearance of bewildering complexity   (only the appearance?)  and a few High Court Judges, notably Peter Jackson J have remarked in judgments that the law on deprivation of liberty has become so complex that nobody can understand it, least of all the relatives or carers of the vulnerable people who need to be safeguarded by it.

 

 

Let’s get on with the central argument

 

  1. The first and most fundamental question is whether the concept of physical liberty protected by article 5 is the same for everyone, regardless of whether or not they are mentally or physically disabled. Munby LJ in P’s case appears to have thought that it is not, for he criticised the trial judge for failing to grapple with the

“question whether the limitations and restrictions on P’s life at Z house are anything more than the inevitable corollary of his various disabilities. The truth, surely, is they are not. Because of his disabilities, P is inherently restricted in the kind of life he can lead. P’s life, wherever he may be living, whether at home with his family or in the home of a friend or in somewhere like Z House is, to use Parker J’s phrase…, dictated by his disabilities and difficulties” (para 110).

This view has been confirmed by the rejection in Austin v United Kingdom (2012) 55 EHRR 14, para 58, with specific reference to the care and treatment of mentally incapacitated people, of any suggestion by the House of Lords in Austin v Comr of Police of the Metropolis [2009] AC 564 that a beneficial purpose might be relevant (and see also MA v Cyprus (Application No 41872/10), 23 July 2013 and Creanga v Romania (2013) 56 EHRR 11).

  1. The answer given by Mr Richard Gordon QC, who appears instructed by the Official Solicitor on behalf of all three appellants, is that this confuses the concept of deprivation of liberty with the justification for imposing such a deprivation. People who lack the capacity to make (or implement) their own decisions about where to live may justifiably be deprived of their liberty in their own best interests. They may well be a good deal happier and better looked after if they are. But that does not mean that they have not been deprived of their liberty. We should not confuse the question of the quality of the arrangements which have been made with the question of whether these arrangements constitute a deprivation of liberty.

 

 

To be honest, you can just assume that I am saying “hear hear” at most paragraph breaks from here on in. But hell yeah.

 

  1. Allied to the “inevitable corollary” argument it might once have been suggested that a person cannot be deprived of his liberty if he lacks the capacity to understand and object to his situation. But that suggestion was rejected in HL v United Kingdom. In any event, it is quite clear that a person may be deprived of his liberty without knowing it. An unconscious or sleeping person may not know that he has been locked in a cell, but he has still been deprived of his liberty. A mentally disordered person who has been kept in a cupboard under the stairs (a not uncommon occurrence in days gone by) may not appreciate that there is any alternative way to live, but he has still been deprived of his liberty. We do not have any difficulty in recognising these situations as a deprivation of liberty. We should not let the comparative benevolence of the living arrangements with which we are concerned blind us to their essential character if indeed that constitutes a deprivation of liberty.
  1. The whole point about human rights is their universal character. The rights set out in the European Convention are to be guaranteed to “everyone” (article 1). They are premised on the inherent dignity of all human beings whatever their frailty or flaws. The same philosophy underpins the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), ratified by the United Kingdom in 2009. Although not directly incorporated into our domestic law, the CRPD is recognised by the Strasbourg court as part of the international law context within which the guarantees of the European Convention are to be interpreted. Thus, for example, in Glor v Switzerland, Application No 13444/04, 30 April 2009, at para 53, the Court reiterated that the Convention must be interpreted in the light of present-day conditions and continued:

“It also considers that there is a European and Worldwide consensus on the need to protect people with disabilities from discriminatory treatment (see, for example, Recommendation 1592 (2003) towards full inclusion of people with disabilities, adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 29 January 2003, or the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force on 3 May 2008).”

 

 

So, there isn’t a different test about whether someone’s liberty is being deprived because of the circumstances of that individual   (that might go to the later question of whether the deprivation is justified or justifiable, but it is a straight factual decision – EVERYONE has the right not to be deprived of their liberty, and you don’t lose that right just because you are autistic or vulnerable in other ways. We certainly don’t compare sedating a vulnerable person and preventing them from leaving with putting a seatbelt on a wriggling child in the back of a car.    (Or at least, we don’t any more, that comparison was made in one of these Deprivation of Liberty – DoLS cases)

 

Second question then, if deprivation of liberty is a factual question, what are the characteristics that decides whether someone is, or is not being deprived of their liberty?

 

The second question, therefore, is what is the essential character of a deprivation of liberty? It is common ground that three components can be derived from Storck, paras 74 and 89, confirmed in Stanev, paras 117 and 120, as follows: (a) the objective component of confinement in a particular restricted place for a not negligible length of time; (b) the subjective component of lack of valid consent; and (c) the attribution of responsibility to the state. Components (b) and (c) are not in issue here, but component (a) is.

 

 

  1. In none of the more recent cases was the purpose of the confinement – which may well have been for the benefit of the person confined – considered relevant to whether or not there had been a deprivation of liberty. If the fact that the placement was designed to serve the best interests of the person concerned meant that there could be no deprivation of liberty, then the deprivation of liberty safeguards contained in the Mental Capacity Act would scarcely, if ever, be necessary. As Munby J himself put it in JE v DE [2007] 2 FLR 1150, para 46:

“I have great difficulty in seeing how the question of whether a particular measure amounts to a deprivation of liberty can depend upon whether it is intended to serve or actually serves the interests of the person concerned. For surely this is to confuse . . . two quite separate and distinct questions: Has there been a deprivation of liberty? And, if so, can it be justified?”

 

 

ie, something doesn’t cease to be a deprivation of liberty just because there are good reasons for it  – what you have there is a deprivation of liberty which is justified, and the Court can sanction it.

 

 

  1. In my view, it is axiomatic that people with disabilities, both mental and physical, have the same human rights as the rest of the human race. It may be that those rights have sometimes to be limited or restricted because of their disabilities, but the starting point should be the same as that for everyone else. This flows inexorably from the universal character of human rights, founded on the inherent dignity of all human beings, and is confirmed in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Far from disability entitling the state to deny such people human rights: rather it places upon the state (and upon others) the duty to make reasonable accommodation to cater for the special needs of those with disabilities.
  1. Those rights include the right to physical liberty, which is guaranteed by article 5 of the European Convention. This is not a right to do or to go where one pleases. It is a more focussed right, not to be deprived of that physical liberty. But, as it seems to me, what it means to be deprived of liberty must be the same for everyone, whether or not they have physical or mental disabilities. If it would be a deprivation of my liberty to be obliged to live in a particular place, subject to constant monitoring and control, only allowed out with close supervision, and unable to move away without permission even if such an opportunity became available, then it must also be a deprivation of the liberty of a disabled person. The fact that my living arrangements are comfortable, and indeed make my life as enjoyable as it could possibly be, should make no difference. A gilded cage is still a cage.
  1. For that reason, I would reject the “relative normality” approach of the Court of Appeal in the case of P [2012] PTSR 1447, where the life which P was leading was compared with the life which another person with his disabilities might be leading

 

 

 

  1. P, MIG and MEG are, for perfectly understandable reasons, not free to go anywhere without permission and close supervision. So what are the particular features of their “concrete situation” on which we need to focus?
  1. The answer, as it seems to me, lies in those features which have consistently been regarded as “key” in the jurisprudence which started with HL v United Kingdom 40 EHRR 761: that the person concerned “was under continuous supervision and control and was not free to leave” (para 91). I would not go so far as Mr Gordon, who argues that the supervision and control is relevant only insofar as it demonstrates that the person is not free to leave. A person might be under constant supervision and control but still be free to leave should he express the desire so to do. Conversely, it is possible to imagine situations in which a person is not free to leave but is not under such continuous supervision and control as to lead to the conclusion that he was deprived of his liberty. Indeed, that could be the explanation for the doubts expressed in Haidn v Germany.
  1. The National Autistic Society and Mind, in their helpful intervention, list the factors which each of them has developed as indicators of when there is a deprivation of liberty. Each list is clearly directed towards the test indicated above. But the charities do not suggest that this court should lay down a prescriptive list of criteria. Rather, we should indicate the test and those factors which are not relevant. Thus, they suggest, the person’s compliance or lack of objection is not relevant; the relative normality of the placement (whatever the comparison made) is not relevant; and the reason or purpose behind a particular placement is also not relevant. For the reasons given above, I agree with that approach

 

 

 

You are looking for  – is a person under continuous supervision and control, are they free to leave.

 

It is NOT relevant that the person is complying or not objecting.

 

It is NOT relevant that a person in similar circumstances to this person would have the same sort of placement or restrictions

 

It is NOT relevant that the reason for the restrictions is to protect the person or that it is for their own good   (that comes into the second stage – is the deprivation justifiable)

 

 

54. If the acid test is whether a person is under the complete supervision and control of those caring for her and is not free to leave the place where she lives, then the truth is that both MIG and MEG are being deprived of their liberty. Furthermore, that deprivation is the responsibility of the state. Similar constraints would not necessarily amount to a deprivation of liberty for the purpose of article 5 if imposed by parents in the exercise of their ordinary parental responsibilities and outside the legal framework governing state intervention in the lives of children or people who lack the capacity to make their own decisions.

 

And on P

 

  1. In the case of P, the Court of Appeal should not have set aside the decision of the judge for the reasons they gave. Does it follow that the decision of the judge should be restored? In my view it does. In paragraph 46 of his judgment, he correctly directed himself as to the three components of a deprivation of liberty derived from Storck; he reminded himself that the distinction between a deprivation of and a restriction of liberty is one of degree or intensity rather than nature or substance; and he held that “a key factor is whether the person is, or is not, free to leave. This may be tested by determining whether those treating and managing the patient exercise complete and effective control of the person’s care and movements” (para 46(5)). It is true that, in paragraph 48, he summarised the further guidance given by the Court of Appeal in P and Q, including the relevance of an absence of objection and the relative normality of the person’s life, which in my view are not relevant factors. But when he considered the circumstances of P’s life at the Z house, he remarked (para 58) upon the very great care taken by the local authority and the staff of Z House to ensure that P’s life was as normal as possible, but continued (para 59):

“On the other hand, his life is completely under the control of members of staff at Z House. He cannot go anywhere or do anything without their support and assistance. More specifically, his occasionally aggressive behaviour, and his worrying habit of touching and eating his continence pads, require a range of measures, including at time physical restraint, and, when necessary, the intrusive procedure of inserting fingers into his mouth whilst he is being restrained.”

In my view, in substance the judge was applying the right test, derived from HL v United Kingdom, and his conclusion that “looked at overall, P is being deprived of his liberty” (para 60) should be restored.

 

 

And in conclusion Lady Hale says

 

Because of the extreme vulnerability of people like P, MIG and MEG, I believe that we should err on the side of caution in deciding what constitutes a deprivation of liberty in their case. They need a periodic independent check on whether the arrangements made for them are in their best interests. Such checks need not be as elaborate as those currently provided for in the Court of Protection or in the Deprivation of Liberty safeguards (which could in due course be simplified and extended to placements outside hospitals and care homes). Nor should we regard the need for such checks as in any way stigmatising of them or of their carers. Rather, they are a recognition of their equal dignity and status as human beings like the rest of us.

 

 

 

As I said at the outset, the Supreme Court was unanimous that P’s liberty had been deprived, but were 4-3 split on MIG and MEG, the majority agreeing with Lady Hale that their liberty had been deprived.

 

 

The dissenting views were in very broad terms based on agreement with this proposition by Parker J in the original decision on MIG and MEG

 

  1. 107.                        “225. Freedom to leave has to be assessed against the background that neither wants to leave their respective homes, there is no alternative home save that of their mother where neither wishes to live, and neither appears to have the capacity to conceptualise any alternative unfamiliar environment. I have been told and I accept that if the local authority felt that either was actively unhappy where they were placed, then other arrangements would be made.

226. In my view it is necessary to analyse what specific measures or restraints are in fact required. …”

 

And that

 

nobody using ordinary language would describe people living happily in a domestic setting as being deprived of their liberty. I am not persuaded that the ECtHR would so hold. A more measured conclusion would be that MIG’s liberty was interfered with and not that she had been deprived of her liberty. The same is true of MEG.

 

 

 

I am aware, in conclusion, that I have devoted far more time to the majority judgment and lead judgment of Lady Hale than to the dissent; an analysis of the nuances between them is probably beyond the scope of this blog and I’ll leave it to specialists like Lucy Series over at The Small Places blog. 

 

 

[Lucy hasn’t written on it yet, but can I refer you to this brilliant, stirring and beautiful piece on the House of Lords dissection of the MCA  http://thesmallplaces.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/democracy-in-action/

 

I wish that I could write with an ounce of Lucy’s passion – she’s the sort of writer that makes me want to man the barricades. If, as the House of Lords hint, there should be some sort of monitoring/oversight/scrutiny/guidance body other than the Courts overseeing the MCA, Lucy should be on it ]

 

Plus, as I have not even attempted to disguise during this piece, I wholly agree with Lady Hale’s determination.

 

It may well be that there are far more people than the current 11,800 DoLs applications as a result of this decision. Well, so be it. For me, that is more people whose liberty is being deprived having the opportunity to challenge and test that before the Courts, rather than workers on the ground deciding that they aren’t being deprived of their liberty because the restrictions are right for ‘that sort of person’ and ‘for their own good’

 

Maybe the number of applications will break the system. Well, then the system needs to be broken and rebuilt.  Because of the extreme vulnerability of people like P and MIG and MEG, we should err on the side of extreme caution when protecting their rights.

 

 

As to the children and secure accommodation orders approach, it might be worth noting Lord Kerr’s observations (this one of the majority judgments)

 

  1. The question whether one is restricted (as a matter of actuality) is determined by comparing the extent of your actual freedom with someone of your age and station whose freedom is not limited. Thus a teenager of the same age and familial background as MIG and MEG is the relevant comparator for them. If one compares their state with a person of similar age and full capacity it is clear that their liberty is in fact circumscribed. They may not be conscious, much less resentful, of the constraint but, objectively, limitations on their freedom are in place.
  1. All children are (or should be) subject to some level of restraint. This adjusts with their maturation and change in circumstances. If MIG and MEG had the same freedom from constraint as would any child or young person of similar age, their liberty would not be restricted, whatever their level of disability. As a matter of objective fact, however, constraints beyond those which apply to young people of full ability are – and have to be – applied to them. There is therefore a restriction of liberty in their cases. Because the restriction of liberty is – and must remain – a constant feature of their lives, the restriction amounts to a deprivation of liberty.
  1. Very young children, of course, because of their youth and dependence on others, have – an objectively ascertainable – curtailment of their liberty but this is a condition common to all children of tender age.  There is no question, therefore, of suggesting that infant children are deprived of their liberty in the normal family setting.  A comparator for a young child is not a fully matured adult, or even a partly mature adolescent.  While they were very young, therefore, MIG and MEG’s liberty was not restricted.  It is because they can – and must – now be compared to children of their own age and relative maturity who are free from disability and who have access (whether they have recourse to that or not) to a range of freedoms which MIG and MEG cannot have resort to that MIG and MEG are deprived of liberty.

 

So in order to ascertain whether a deprivation of liberty is occurring you are looking at whether the restrictions being put on THIS child are comparable to that of another child of similar age  – of course carers and parents put different restrictions on an 8 year old than a 15 year old, and it is nonsense to say that the 8 year old’s liberty is being deprived as a result of not having the same freedoms as a 15 year old.  But if a particular 15 year old is having restrictions that are over and above what an average 15 year old might be allowed, then the question might arise.  It is important to note that whilst Lord Kerr is tolerating a degree of subjectivity, he is not saying that the test is completely subjective – the comparator is an average child of this age, not a child who has the same sort of problems, or behaviours, or vulnerabilities of this child.

 

 

For example

 

Most 14 year olds wouldn’t be allowed to leave their home at 2.00am, so a foster carer doing the same won’t be depriving the child of their liberty.

 

Most 14 year olds have had the experience of being ‘grounded’ for bad behaviour and having a period of time in which they aren’t able to go out with their friends, or use the computer or similar, so a foster carer doing the same isn’t depriving a child of their liberty

 

However, most 14 year olds aren’t told that they can never leave the home except under adult supervision, or have their door locked at night, so that would be a deprivation of liberty if it happened to a child in foster care.