“A sensible decision, not the pursuit of perfection”

Mr Justice Peter Jackson has expressed concern about the costs and delay – and associated “human misery” and drain on manpower- in two Court of Protection cases, which in his conservative estimate cost around £9,000 per month, largely paid for by the State.

 

You can read his strong judgment here. It echoes some of the comments made in the family sphere (V v V, [2011] EWHC 1190 (FAM); J v J [2014] EWHC (Fam)).

 

The following comments should be noted by practitioners:

 

  • The inconsistency of “extravagance” in CoP proceedings with the parties’ duty to assist the court in furthering the over-riding objective;
  • The importance of restraining excessive costs where P’s money is being spent on deciding his future, whether he likes it or not
  • The judge’s criticism of the “search for the ideal solution, leading to decent but imperfect solutions being rejected”- s1(5) “calls for a sensible decision, not the pursuit of perfection;
  • It is not necessary to take up “every conceivable legal or factual issue, rather than concentrating on the issues that really need to be resolved”.
  • The need for professional co-operation. Here the judge noted the role of the litigation friend in one of the cases: “This was epitomised in Case A, where the litigation friend’s submission focussed heavily on alleged shortcomings by the local authority, even to the extent that it was accompanied by a dense document entitled “Chronology of Faults”. But despite this, the author had no alternative solution to offer. The role of the litigation friend in representing P’s interests is not merely a passive one, discharged by critiquing other peoples’ efforts. Where he considers it in his client’s interest, he is entitled to research and present any realistic alternatives.“

 

 

 

The judge concluded:

 

  1. “The main responsibility for this situation and its solution must lie with the court, which has the power to control its proceedings. The purpose of this judgment is to express the view that the case management provisions in the Court of Protection Rules have proved inadequate on their own to secure the necessary changes in practice. While cases about children and cases about incapacitated adults have differences, their similarities are also obvious. There is a clear procedural analogy to be drawn between many welfare proceedings in the Court of Protection and proceedings under the Children Act. As a result of the Public Law Outline, robust case management, use of experts only where necessary, judicial continuity, and a statutory time-limit, the length of care cases has halved in two years. Yet Court of Protection proceedings can commonly start with no timetable at all for their conclusion, nor any early vision of what an acceptable outcome would look like. The young man in Case B is said to have a mental age of 8. What would we now say if it took five years – or 18 months – to decide the future of an 8-year-old?
  2. I therefore believe that the time has come to introduce the same disciplines in the Court of Protection as now apply in the Family Court. Accordingly, and at his request, I am sending a copy of this judgment to the President of the Court of Protection, Sir James Munby, for his consideration.”

 

 

Habitual Residence for the purpose of the MCA

In A Local Authority v SW and another, Moylan J considered the question of the habitual residence of SW, a woman who lacked capacity to decide about her residence.  She had moved in 2009 from hospital in Scotland (where she had grown up) to a placement in England, initially under under the terms of the equivalent of a Community Treatment Order.  This lapsed in 2010.   Her care was funded by the Scottish authorities and this would continue whatever the judgment.  Her money was managed in Scotland on her behalf.

The judge concluded that (although SW expressed a dislike of the area where she lived and a wish to move) she was habitually resident in England.  His reasoning is set out below:

“Discussion

    1. Given the close links, in particular between the 2000 Convention and the 1996 Child Protection Convention, as explained in the Lagarde Report; given the relationship between the 2000 Convention and the MCA; and for general policy considerations as referred to by Lady Hale in A v A, it is clear to me that the definition of “habitual residence” under the MCA should be the same as that applied in other family law instruments, including BIIa. Further, BIIa is also closely linked to the 1996 Convention, as explained in Proceedings brought by A.
    2. In my view, it must be right that the approach to the issue of habitual residence under BIIa should be the same as that under the MCA. I have not been directly referred to other judgments from the Court of Justice or domestically which address the issue of habitual residence including those which refer to the test of “centre of interests”. However, this phrase is incorporated in the judgment of Mercredi v Chaffe, as referred to above. Accordingly, whilst, inevitably, different factors will be relevant and will bear differential weight, the overarching approach should be consistent across all international family law instruments, including under the 1996 Child Protection Convention and in respect of children under BIIa. Any other approach would, in my view, be inconsistent with the points made in the Lagarde Report, especially in paragraph 49.
    3. I do not, therefore, accept Mr Rees’s submission that the approach established by the CJEU, as adopted by the Supreme Court, is not applicable. I agree with Mr Harrop-Griffiths that the test should be the same, suitably applied, as that under Brussels IIa as referred to above. If a different approach was to be taken as between adults and children, habitual residence would not even be applied consistently within BIIa. It is plain that different factors, as in any case, will or may have differing degrees of relevance. But, in my view, the overarching test should be the same.
    4. However, I agree with Mr Rees’s submission that the Local Authorities have adopted too narrow a focus when addressing the circumstances of this case. It is clearly important, given its critical place in so many international instruments, that the determination of habitual residence is kept as free as possible from analytical complexities or constructs. It is a question of fact. In my view, the Local Authorities in the present case have focused unduly on whether SW is integrated, in the sense of settled, by reference to whether she is happy living where she has been. Reduced to their key elements they submit that, given SW’s placements in England have to varying extents been determined for her and given she does not like living where she is, SW is not habitually resident in this jurisdiction because she has never become sufficiently integrated.
    5. Although the Supreme Court refers, in both A v A and Re LC, to the test or question as being whether there is some or sufficient degree of integration in a social and family environment, I do not accept that this was intended to narrow the court’s focus to this issue alone as an issue of fact. It is not a free-standing, determinative factor, and in particular not to the exclusion of all other factors. In my view, this would not be consistent with the broad assessment identified as being necessary by the CJEU. As the Court said, in Proceedings brought by A, the national court must conduct an “overall assessment” in the light of the factors referred to in paragraphs 38-41.
    6. In Mercredi v Chaffe the Court of Justice said that the place of habitual residence “must be established, taking account of all the circumstances of fact specific to each individual case” (paragraph 47). These include the conditions and reasons for the stay, its duration, and other factors which make clear that the person’s presence is not in any way temporary or intermittent. Factors which, as Lady Hale said in Re LC (paragraph 59), address whether the residence has acquired “the necessary degree of stability”.
    7. Further, integration, as an issue of fact, can be an emotive and loaded word. It is not difficult to think of examples of an adult who is not integrated at all in a family environment and only tenuously integrated in a social environment but who is undoubtedly habitually resident in the country where they are living. Integration as an issue of fact can also raise difficulties when a court is determining the habitual residence of a person who lacks capacity. As Mr Rees submits, there is a wide range of potential factual situations which will impact on the court’s ability to establish a person’s state of mind or perception and the weight which can properly be given to it.
    8. To repeat what Lady Hale said in A v A, at paragraph 54(vii): “The essentially factual and individual nature of the inquiry should not be glossed with legal concepts which would produce a different result from that which the factual inquiry would produce”. Another way, in my view, of expressing this might be that the court should not lose sight of the wood for the trees. I say this because, standing back for a moment, it might be thought surprising that it might be argued that someone who has been living, largely voluntarily, in England for nearly five years, and for the last three-and-a-half years in their own flat, was not habitually resident here.
    9. I would suggest that the phrase “degree of integration”, as with centre of interests, is an overarching summary or question rather than the sole, or even necessarily the primary, factor in the determination of habitual residence. Otherwise, it would become a legal construct in place of the essential issue which is, of course, that of habitual residence. This is not to say that the degree of integration and a person’s state of mind are not relevant; they are clearly factors to which appropriate weight must be given when the court is undertaking a broad assessment of all the circumstances of the case. The broad assessment which is required properly to determine whether the quality of residence is such that it has become habitual in that it has the necessary degree of stability in order to distinguish it from mere presence or temporary or intermittent residence. This means a sufficient, or some, degree of integration, not, I suggest, as a limited factual assessment, but as a question to be answered by reference to the factors, suitably applied, referred to by the CJEU and the Supreme Court.

Determination

  1. Turning then to the circumstances of the present case. As SW has been living in England since July 2009 and has been living in her own flat since December 2010, in my view there would need to be some compelling countervailing factors in order for me to determine that she is not habitually resident in England.
  2. I accept that SW’s move to England was pursuant to a compulsory treatment order and that, since then, her place of residence, while seeking to meet her wishes as much as possible, has very largely been governed by the relevant authority’s decision as to what would suitable and by what has been available. I also accept that SW has expressed her dislike of the area in which she lives and her wish to move somewhere else. However, I do not consider that these factors come close to counterbalancing the effect of SW’s long residence in England especially when combined with the matters referred to by Mr Rees (paragraph 61 above).
  3. By virtue of its duration, SW’s residence has, in my view, acquired what might be termed effective “stability”, in the sense used by the Court of Justice. Many people would rather not be living where they are and might wish fervently to live somewhere else. However, at least after a person has been living in one place for a significant period of time it will be difficult not to come to the conclusion that they are sufficiently integrated into their environment, whatever its composition, for them to be habitually resident there. In the present case, any other conclusion would, in my view, be placing far too much weight on an assessment on SW’s state of mind and the extent to which she feels settled. Accordingly, in my judgment SW is habitually resident in this jurisdiction for the purposes of the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

The Re X process goes live

The much-anticipated new procedure for the judicial authorisation of deprivation of liberty in settings outside hospitals and care homes comes into force on 17 November.  The procedure implements the judgments of Sir James Munby P in Re X (1) and Re X (2).  It is set out in the new Part 2 of Practice Direction 10A (Deprivation of Liberty), and is accompanied by a new application form (with annexes), designed exclusively for applying for court-authorised deprivations of liberty.   All the materials are available here.

The Court of Protection has set up a dedicated team to deal with applications made under the Re X procedure.  The contact details are:

Court of Protection

P.O. Box 70185

London

WC1A 9JA

 

DX 160013 Kingsway 7

Telephone: 0207 421 8665

Email: COPDOLS/S16@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk

The legal aid debate escalates

In some of his most trenchant comments to date, Sir James Munby P has raised the stakes yet further in the battle (we entirely support) to secure proper funding for representation in proceedings concerning the most vulnerable. In Re D (A Child) [2014] EWFC 39, the President was concerned with care proceedings in which:

  1. The father lacked capacity to litigate and therefore required a litigation friend. That litigation friend was the Official Solicitor, who was only prepared to act because the father’s solicitor and counsel had agreed to act, thus far, pro bono and, indeed, further, the solicitor had agreed to indemnify him against any adverse costs orders; [1]
  2. The mother, although she had learning disabilities, was not a protected party. Because of her ‘personal characteristics, intellectual functioning and limitations which affect [her],’ she was in the view of her counsel (endorsed by the President)  wholly unable to represent herself in relation to any aspect of [the] proceedings’;
  3. Neither qualified for legal aid but both lacked the financial resources to pay for legal representation where, as the President put it ‘unthinkable that they should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation’.

Sir James Munby set out a number of propositions of equal application – we suggest – to ‘adult care’ proceedings before the Court of Protection where a local authority wishes to remove an adult P from the care of their parents.

He noted, in particular, the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in RP v United Kingdom [2012] ECHR 1796, drawing attention, especially, to the underlined words in paragraph 67:

67. In light of the above, and bearing in mind the requirement in the UN Convention that State parties provide appropriate accommodation to facilitate disabled persons’ effective role in legal proceedings, the Court considers that it was not only appropriate but also necessary for the United Kingdom to take measures to ensure that RP’s best interests were represented in the childcare proceedings. Indeed, in view of its existing case-law the Court considers that a failure to take measures to protect RP’s interests might in itself have amounted to a violation of Article 6(1) of the Convention (emphasis added).

 The President described the parents’ predicament as ‘shocking’:

 31. Stripping all this down to essentials, what do the circumstances reveal?

i) The parents are facing, and facing because of a decision taken by an agent of the State, the local authority, the permanent loss of their child. What can be worse for a parent?

ii) The parents, because of their own problems, are quite unable to represent themselves: the mother as a matter of fact, the father both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law.

iii) The parents lack the financial resources to pay for legal representation.

iv) In these circumstances it is unthinkable that the parents should have to face the local authority’s application without proper representation. To require them to do so would be unconscionable; it would be unjust; it would involve a breach of their rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention; it would be a denial of justice.

v) If his parents are not properly represented, D will also be prejudiced. He is entitled to a fair trial; he will not have a fair trial if his parents do not, for any distortion of the process may distort the outcome. Moreover, he is entitled to an appropriately speedy trial, for section 1(2) of the 1989 Act and section 1(3) of the 2002 Act both enjoin the court to bear in mind that in general any delay in coming to a decision is likely to prejudice the child’s welfare. So delay in arranging for the parents’ representation is likely to prejudice the child. Putting the point more generally, the court in a case such as this is faced with an inescapable, and in truth insoluble, tension between having to do justice to both the parents and the child, when at best it can do justice only to one and not the other and, at worst, and more probably, end up doing justice to neither.

vi) Thus far the State has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving the solution to the problem which the State itself has created – for the State has brought the proceedings but declined all responsibility for ensuring that the parents are able to participate effectively in the proceedings it has brought – to the goodwill, the charity, of the legal profession. This is, it might be thought, both unprincipled and unconscionable. Why should the State leave it to private individuals to ensure that the State is not in breach of the State’s – the United Kingdom’s – obligations under the Convention? As Baker J said in the passage I have already quoted, “It is unfair that legal representation in these vital cases is only available if the lawyers agree to work for nothing.

The President then threw down the gauntlet in no uncertain fashion, in a fashion presaged in his earlier decision in Q v Q [2014] EWFC 7, and directed a further hearing:

36  … at which, assuming that the parents still do not have legal aid, I shall decide whether or not their costs are to be funded by one, or some, or all of (listing them in no particular order) the local authority, as the public authority bringing the proceedings, the legal aid fund, on the basis that D’s own interests require an end to the delay and a process which is just and Convention compliant, or Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, on the basis that the court is a public authority required to act in a Convention compliant manner.

37. Copies of this judgment, and of the order I made following the hearing on 8 October 2014, will accordingly be sent to the Lord Chancellor, the Legal Aid Agency, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, inviting each of them to intervene in the proceedings to make such submissions as they may think appropriate. If they choose not to intervene, I shall proceed on the basis of the conclusions expressed in this judgment, in particular as I have set them out in paragraph 31.

[1] It should also be noted that the solicitor, Rebecca Stevens of Withy King had spent in excess of 100 hours, all unremunerated, working to resolve the issue of the father’s entitlement to legal aid. As the President noted, ‘This is devotion to the client far above and far beyond the call of duty’.

The limits of paternalism

Re DM [2014] EWHC 3119 (Fam) is an important case about the limits of the inherent jurisdiction.

Sunderland City Council sought declaratory relief sanctioning a birth plan in respect of a vulnerable adult which contemplated: (i) interference with the mother/baby relationship following the birth which involved some unspecified level of forced separation and, potentially, removal of the child; and (ii) that the mother should not be informed of key aspects of the plan.

The above orders were sought under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court.

The application was made on a Friday. Hayden J adjourned it over the weekend because he did not consider that the evidence had been fully marshalled. On Monday, the local authority sought permission to withdraw its application. Hayden J granted permission to withdraw ‘without hesitation’ because he was far from persuaded of the necessity for or proportionality of the relief sought.

The expert evidence was that the mother had capacity to make decisions about (i) the contact she had with professionals (ii) the safe management of the birth of her baby and particularly in deciding whether and when to undergo an induction and (iii) to make decisions about the treatment she should receive following the birth of the baby.

The young woman had given birth on eight previous occasions and each of those children had been removed from her care and placed for adoption. The mother had also gone into hiding late in her last pregnancy. Relevant clinicians had come to the conclusion in this pregnancy that labour should be induced for the mother’s own health. The local authority was understandably concerned that the mother might go into hiding again jeopardising her own health, that of the unborn child and that of the child following birth. The local authority sought to protect the mother and to put in place such protective measures as they could on the birth of the child. Hayden J described the instincts of the local authority as ‘laudable’ but with a ‘paternalistic complexion’. He emphasised that the law was vigorous in protecting the fundamental principle of personal autonomy. He noted that individuals are entitled to take their own decisions, both good and bad and are at liberty to make their own mistakes.

The starting point was that the local authority had an obligation to consult parents in the care planning for their children and/or unborn child.

Hayden J reiterated that in UK law a foetus has no rights of its own until it is born and has a separate existence from its mother. It was a principle that infused the whole of the criminal and civil law in the UK. Balcombe LJ in Re F (in Utero) (Wardship) [1988] 2 FLR 307 had confirmed that the inherent jurisdiction did not extend to the unborn child.

The issue in this case was therefore the future rights of a child, crystallising on birth and the present and existing rights of a pregnant, capacitous woman. In St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust v S;  R v Collins and others ex p S [1998] 2 FLR 728 Judge LJ in the Court of Appeal concluded that a capacitous adult should be entitled to decline medical treatment even if her life or that of the unborn child depended on it. The ‘powerful elucidation of the law’ by Buter-Sloss LJ in Re MB (An Adult: Medical treatment) [1997] 2 FLR 426 remained the starting point in all applications:

… a competent woman who has the capacity to decide may, for religious reasons, other reasons, or for no reasons at all, choose not to have medical intervention, even though … the consequence may be the death or serious handicap of the child she bears or her own death. She may refuse to consent to the anaesthesia injection in the full knowledge that her decision may significantly reduce the chance of her unborn child being born alive. The foetus up to the moment of birth does not have any separate interests capable of being taken into account when a court has to consider an application for a declaration in respect of a caesarean section operation. The [law] does not have the jurisdiction to declare that such medical intervention is lawful to protect the interests of the unborn child even at the point of birth.

The application in this case was based on the landmark decision of Munby J (as he then was) in Re D (Unborn Baby) [2009] 2 FLR 313. In Re D, Munby J was not exercising the inherent jurisdiction in relation to an incapacitated adult; he was concerned with the best interests of the baby when born. Munby J emphasised the ‘wholly exceptional’ circumstances in which anticipatory relief would be granted. It was necessary to ensure that it was not only ‘appropriate and justified’, but ‘imperatively demanded’ in the interest of safety in the period immediately following the birth of a child. It was always to be regarded as ‘highly unusual’ and a ‘very exceptional step’.

Hayden J went on the revisit in summary the exceptional circumstances of the Re D case which included: the fact that the mother was serving a custodial sentence due to a serious assault on her daughter during a supervised contact session; the mother’s continuing extreme distress and challenging behaviour including an attempt to take her own life in highly alarming circumstances in her cell; the fact that the mother had expressed the view that her children would be better off dead than in the care of the local authority. He emphasised that Re D was ‘a wholly exceptional case’ and reiterated that the courts and local authorities must be vigilant to ensure that the wholly exceptional nature of the relief was never lost sight of.

Hayden J did not consider that any more recent cases had weakened the test set out by Munby J in Re D. He did not consider that it would be helpful to set out prescriptive conditions but stated that to invoke the declaratory relief initially sought in this case the facts would require a level of ‘exceptionality’ and would be characterised by the ‘imperative demands’ and the ‘interests of safety’ of the newborn baby in the period immediately following its birth.

Hayden J held that the professional instincts in this case were sincere but they were ultimately misconceived. It was possible to keep the mother and baby together in a manner that respected the mutual need each for the other in the period immediately following birth which would have the effect of maintaining the respective rights of both mother and baby until the Family Proceedings Court could hear the inevitable applications.

Although the judgment had described the application as misconceived, the judge observed that professionals involved in these difficult decisions provided a huge service to the woman and babies they dealt with and society more widely. This case, Hayden J considered, had illustrated the challenges they faced and the debt we all owed to them.

Comment

This case is a useful reminder of the limits of the inherent jurisdiction (albeit as it applies in a rather different context to that jurisdiction as it applies in relation to vulnerable adults) and the wholly exceptional nature of the Re D case with its use of an anticipatory declaration in the interests of a child who has just been born.

It is also a useful reminder for local authorities and those who act for local authorities that good intentions and legitimate professional concerns can stray into the realm of paternalism.

[A version of this note appeared in the November 2014 Thirty Nine Essex Street Mental Capacity Law Newsletter]

Capacity, contact, care and supported living

In the fifth substantive judgment in LBX v K and others [2013] EWHC 3230 (Fam), Mrs Justice Theis considers the ‘relevant information’ that needs to be understood to make a decision about supported living and care arrangements. Readers will be familiar with the important decision of the Court of Appeal which upheld one of the earlier judgments. The Court of Appeal’s decision ([2012] EWCA Civ 79) can be read here. Here, Theis J was asked to consider whether L, a young man with mild learning disabilities had the potential to achieve mental capacity to make decisions about residence, contact and some specific care decisions. Theis J agreed that the relevant information in making a decision between accommodation options was:

1. what the two options are, including information about what they are, what sort of property they are and what sort of facilities they have;

2. in broad terms, what sort of area the properties are in (and any specific known risks beyond the usual risks faced by people living in an area if any such specific risks exist);

3. the difference between living somewhere and visiting it;

4. what activities L would be able to do if he lived in each place;

5. whether and how he would be able to see his family and friends if he lived in each place;

6. in relation to the proposed placement, that he would need to pay money to live there, which would be dealt with by his appointee, that he would need to pay bills, which would be dealt with by his appointee, and that there is an agreement that he has to comply with the relevant lists of ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s, otherwise he will not be able to remain living at the placement;

7. who he would be living with at each placement;

8. what sort of care he would receive in each placement in broad terms, in other words, that he would receive similar support in the proposed placement to the support he currently receives, and any differences if he were to live at home; and

9. the risk that his father might not want to see him if L chooses to live in the new placement.

She considered it would ‘set the bar too high’ to add matters such as the cost of the placement and the value of money; the legal nature of the tenancy agreement or licence; and the relationship that L might have with his father in 10 or 20 years time if he lived independently now – this was outside the ‘reasonably foreseeable consequences’ of the decision. (para 44)

45. I agree also with the analysis of the Official Solicitor as to contact in para13 save for one matter. So I agree with the first one, who they are and in broad terms the nature of his relationship with them; secondly, what sort of contact he could have with each of them, including different locations, differing durations and differing arrangements regarding the presence of a support worker; and, thirdly, the positive and negative aspects of having contact with each person. This will necessarily and inevitably be influenced by L’s evaluations. His evaluations will only be irrelevant if they are based on demonstrably false beliefs. For example, if he believed that a person had assaulted him when they had not. But L’s present evaluation of the positive and negative aspects of contact will not be the only relevant information. His past pleasant experience of contact with his father will also be relevant and he may need to be reminded of them as part of the assessment of capacity.

46. In relation to the last aspect under contact, which is what might be the impact of deciding to have or not to have contact of a particular sort with a particular person, I think there needs to be some reference in there to family in that family are in a different category, and I will hear submissions in relation to adjustments to that aspect.

47. I agree also that in relation to contact the matters set out in para 14 are not relevant: abstract notions, like the nature of friendship and the importance of family ties, subject to the point that I have just made relating to recognising the family in the last of the agreed aspects; the long-term possible effects of contact decisions, for the reasons I have already given in relation to s3(4); and risks which are not in issue, for example, those mentioned by Dr Hall, such as the risk of financial abuse.

48. Turning to care, again, I agree with the matters itemised in para 15 as being the relevant information, namely, what areas he needs support with, what sort of support he needs, who will be providing him with support, what would happen if he did not have any support or he refused it and, lastly, that carers might not always treat him properly and that he can complain if he is not happy about his care, I agree in relation to the information in para 16 that it is not relevant, that is how his care will be funded, and how the overarching arrangements for monitoring and appointing care staff work.

She endorsed the approach of one of the experts Ms Whittaker, an independent social worker instructed to carry out a best interests assessment but whose approach allowed her to provide valuable views as to L’s potential to achieve capacity. Ms Whittaker had used tangible aids such as drawings, which, as Theis J noted, could assist L in making a decision himself. This approach resonated with MCA 2005 s1(3) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Article 12(3) which states:

States Parties shall take appropriate measures to provide access by persons with disabilities to the support they may require in exercising their legal capacity.