JM-Time to step up

Charles J has handed down a stinging judgment in Re JM and others [2016] EWCOP 15– the latest instalment in the sequence that started with Re X [2014] EWCOP 25. (See also Re X [2014] EWCOP 37, Re X [2015] EWCA2015. and Re NRA [2015] EWCOP 59.

The case concerned the requirements of a process to authorize the deprivation of liberty of adults lacking capacity to consent to their living arrangements, where the statutory scheme set out in Schedule A1 MCA 2005 (“DOLS”) is not available, for example those living in supported living. The only “procedure prescribed by law” for the purpose of Article 5 is an application to the court. New legislation to fill the gap is anticipated in the form of the Law Commission proposals but this is some way off.

All the earlier cases have grappled with the question of the “very essence” of Article 5. What is the right balance between a proportionate and “streamlined” process and procedural safeguards for the vulnerable person at the centre of the case? In particular how can they participate in the process?

In NRA Charles J held that the appointment of a representative under Rule 3A would fulfill the requirements of Article 5, in cases that are uncontentious (and this is an important qualification). He noted that there were some case where there was literally no one available to take on this role and asked for test cases to be listed before him.

The cases of Re JM and others were duly heard on 3 and 4 December and 13 January 2016. He heard from the applicant statutory bodies, the Secretaries of State for Justice and Health and the Official Solicitor. The Law Society was given permission to file submissions.

Charles J reiterated the potential for Rule 3 A representatives – often in the form of advocacy services commissioned by local authorities- to provide the required standards of fairness which the streamlined process needs.

He held that – irrespective of the investigatory role of the COP and the duty of disclosure on applicant authorities- a fair procedure for the purpose of Article 5 and the common law must involve “someone assistance from someone on the ground who considers the care package through P’s eyes” (§140).

The problem is that of availability. He described the case as an opportunity for central government to “face up and constructively address the availability in practice of such Rule 3A representatives” (§17). He concluded that central government had failed to take this up and instead sought to pass the responsibilities to local government and criticized the “avoidant approach that prioritises budgetary considerations over responsibilities to vulnerable people” (§19).

Unsurprisingly he held that the COP should not attempt to direct local authorities to take steps to identify or provide a Rule 3 A representative (§24 and ±102-103). The primary responsibility to put the court in the position where it can meet the minimum requirements of fairness is on central government or on central government together with applicant authorities (§24).

Charles J has therefore taken the following steps in all cases bar one – VE- where a representative became available:

1. He joined the MoJ and DoH as parties;
2. Invited the parties to identify an immediately available Rule 3A representative or an alternative procedure;
3. He stayed the applications until such steps had been taken with liberty to apply.
Importantly he held that this order should be made by the COP in similar cases. (§26)

He provided a list of options that could be taken by central government to break the stalemate that will now see government departments joined in potentially hundreds of cases:

1. Enter into contracts with advocacy providers
2. Provide local authorities with resources so that they can enter into contracts
3. Set up a pool of Accredited Legal Representatives with the support of the Lord Chancellor
4. Increase resources to the Official Solicitor.
5. Make changes to legal aid
6. Provide resources to extend the range of s49 visitors.
7. Take a case to the Supreme Court and invite it to re-visit Cheshire West.

In the course of the judgment Charles J:

1. Accepted that a change to legal aid regulations to permit non-means tested legal aid in both contentious and non-contentious DOL welfare hearings could prove part of a solution (together with the creation of ALRs) (§73)
2. Criticised the Secretary of State for seeking to “pass the parcel” to local authorities without addressing the problems they identified (§85)
3. Quoted from detailed evidence from local authorities demonstrating the levels of pressure in advocacy providers (which will come as no surprise to providers) (§96).
4. Found that full and investigative legal aid is not properly available for any process that does not require a hearing (because of the requirements in the Civil Legal Aid (Merits) Regulations 2013) (§114)
5. Agreed with the Law Society that although some solicitors carry out work in streamlined cases under legal help, this does not sit easily with the underlying purpose of legal help (§120)
6. Expressed doubt over the suggestion by the LAA that the sufficient benefit test for legal help might not be met if P is already represented by an experienced Rule 3A representative (§121)
7. Expressed the view that the use of legal help is not a viable option because of the level of payments (§123)
8. Accepted the Law Society’s evidence about the difficulties in increasing the number of matter starts (§124).
9. Warned of the dangers to local authorities of relying on a welfare order that is not underpinned by a fair procedure (§133).

In a separate judgment, Re VE [2016] EWCOP 16, Charles J endorsed a useful guidance note for family members contemplating acting as Rule 3A representatives, explaining their role and responsibilities.

 

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