In MASM v MMAM, MM and London Borough of Hackney, Mr Justice Hayden considered what sanctions could be imposed for actions made by a party to Court of Protection proceedings who had deliberately acted in defiance of declarations. Could these be regarded as contempt of court and could committal to prison result?
You can read the judgment here. In brief MM, MASM’s grandson, had not opposed declarations that it was in MASM’s best interests to reside in a care home, and authorising any resultant deprivation of liberty. No injunctions were made at the time and therefore the order contained no penal notice. Subsequently Hayden J found that MM (acting with the assistance of his father Mr MASM) had arranged the removal of MASM to Saudi Arabia and had provided an account to the court which the judge found to be “a complete fabrication”. He was critical of the what he described as the “supine” response of the local authority commenting that “vulnerable adults have to be protected as sedulously as vulnerable children” whilst making it plain that it is the obligation that is similar and not those entitled to such protection.
It was urged upon the judge that – in analogy to the wardship or parens patriae jurisdiction- an action hampering the court’s objectives could itself be an interference with the administration of justice. The judge did not accept this, drawing an important distinction between the paternalistic quality of wardship “which does not easily equate to and is perhaps even inconsistent with the protection of the incapacitous adult”.
Ultimately the judge concluded that a best interests declaration does not always mean that any alternative course of action is contrary to the individual’s welfare and although MM had acted cynically and frustrated the objectives of the litigation, he was not acting in defiance of an order and was not exposed to contempt proceedings. The current case was unusual and there are many cases where partners or relatives struggle to accept the outcome of proceedings and “it would to my mind be disproportionate and indeed corrosive of the co-operation ultimately required for the shadow of potential contempt proceedings to fall too darkly over cases such as this.”
The judge concluded with the following guidance:
“i)Many orders pursuant to Section 16 seem to me to be perfectly capable of being drafted in clear unequivocal and even, where appropriate, prescriptive language. This Section provides for the ‘making of orders’ as well as ‘taking decisions’ in relation to P’s personal welfare, property or affairs. Where the issues are highly specific or indeed capable of being drafted succinctly as an order they should be so, rather than as more nebulous declarations. Where a determination of the court is capable of being expressed with clarity there are many and obvious reasons why it should be so;
ii) In cases which require that P, for whatever reason, reside at a particular place the parties and the court should always consider whether to reinforce that order, under Section 16, by a declaration, pursuant to Section 15, clarifying that it will be unlawful to remove P or to permit or facilitate removal other than by order of the court;
iii) In cases where the evidence suggests there may be potential for a party to disobey the order or frustrate the plans for P approved by the court as in his best interest, the Official Solicitor or Local Authority should consider inviting the court to seek undertakings from the relevant party. If there is a refusal to give undertakings then orders may be appropriate;
iv) Where a potential breach is identified the Local Authority and/or the Official Solicitor should regard it as professional duty to bring the matter to the immediate attention to the court. This obligation is a facet of the requirement to act sedulously in the protection of the vulnerable;
v) Thought must always be given to the objectives and proportionality of any committal proceedings see Re Whiting (supra).”
He directed that MM pay personally the entire costs of the proceedings.