Guest Post: Facilitating participation of ‘P’ in Court of Protection proceedings

[We publish here by way of a guest post a case study  written by Nicola Mackintosh QC (Hon) as to the facilitation of P in Court of Protection proceedings.  The case study will form part of the second edition of the Court of Protection Handbook, coming soon.  Nicola acted as P’s solicitor, instructed by the Official Solicitor as his litigation friend, in A County Council v (1) AB (2) JB (3) SB [2016] EWCOP 41, the case in which the measures set out below were explored].

In the body of [this book], we set out some of the ways in which practice needs to change within the Court of Protection to ensure that the court and representation process is looked at through P’s eyes, rather than just adding P as an afterthought.   Whilst the COPR and accompanying Practice Directions may well need to be amended in due course to secure this goal, creative steps are already possible within the framework of the COPR as they stand.   As a case study, we set out here those which were implemented to facilitate P’s participation in a fact-finding hearing listed to determine allegations of abuse at the hands of his parents.

P had expressed a wish to attend Court to come to the fact finding hearing to listen to what his parents and other witnesses were saying, as well as to ‘tell his story’ to the court. This was opposed by both his parents and the local authority, but the court ruled that he should attend.   The court also ruled that, whilst P was “almost certainly not competent to give evidence [this is] is no reason not to seek with appropriate help to elicit ‘information’ from him via a skilled intermediary….using Rule 95 (e) the Court may admit the information but there is no guarantee that it would accept or act upon it….. the Court’s ability to have information provided by P is wide and flexible…”

In the light of the judgment the practical arrangements which had already been made were implemented. These steps show clearly how vital it is when securing and enhancing P’s participation that each and every detail of the arrangements is planned from P’s perspective and not simply limited to a meeting with the judge (important as that is).  This involved the following:

  1. P’s lawyers meeting with P and securing appropriate Speech and Language Therapy support to prepare for the hearing by exploring concepts such as the following:(b) ‘what is a judge, what will the judge be deciding, why is it important to you’?(d) ‘how can I tell my story’?
  2. (c) ‘what will happen at the hearing, who will speak when, how long will it take etc.’?
  3. (a)‘what is happening in court, what is a case, why is your case in court, what is the case about’?
  4. Considering which court location would best meet the needs of the case, taking into account all physical facilities, travel time for P and others etc.
  5. As the court’s video facilities did not allow for P to be in an adjacent room viewing the proceedings from a distance so as to minimise distress, an alternative facility was found nearby which could provide a video link to the court. Arrangements were made for this between the IT specialists of the court and the other facility, and for the video link to be tested in advance to ensure it was working. In the event this facility was not used as P remained in court throughout the proceedings.
  6. (With consent) taking photographs of the judge, the courtroom and all the lawyers involved in the proceedings to explain to P the physical location and the identity of all involved in advance of the hearing.
  7. Before the hearing arranging a visit by P to the courtroom when the court was not sitting to see the layout, and also to meet the court clerk who was to be allocated to the hearing days.
  8. Deciding where it was best for P to sit in his wheelchair in the courtroom to listen to the proceedings, taking into account the position of other parties and ‘lines of sight’ with others.
  9. Arranging for P to be supported by staff regarding personal care, and ensuring mobile hoists were provided for P in both locations for care.
  10. Ensuring that there was enough physical space in the court complex so that P had a separate room just next to the courtroom, with a fan (P being a wheelchair user had reduced temperature control).

The first day of the hearing was listed as a Ground Rules Hearing, as provided for in the Advocates’ Gateway. On the first day, as planned, the judge met with P in a side room next to the courtroom. P’s solicitor was present, and P’s SALT also assisted by explaining to the judge that P was able to respond ‘yes, no, happy and sad’ through different Makaton signs. P showed the judge how he communicated each of these expressions, enabling the judge better to understand how to interpret P’s wishes and reactions.

Although the fact finding hearing was listed for 9 days, after the initial part of the first day of the hearing (P being present in court with his carers and intermediary) the parties set out their updated positions which then resulted in negotiations to see if a settlement could be reached without the need for the fact finding process. This lasted the first day and the terms of an order were agreed on the second day of the hearing. P was present during all discussions between lawyers and the court, and communicated his wish to continue to be involved and to listen to the proceedings. Between updates to the court he was permitted by the judge to remain in the courtroom with his support workers, watching a DVD. This reduced the need for him to be taken in and out of the courtroom, waiting for long periods in a small stuffy side room, and was invaluable. This could not have been arranged without the court’s co-operation and flexibility of the court staff.

Once agreement had been reached in principle between the parties as to the core issues in the case, it was considered vital for P’s wish to ‘tell his story’ to be facilitated. A very careful consideration of the issues raised, and the broad themes set out in the fact finding schedule was undertaken. Questions of P were drafted by P’s legal representatives with the assistance of P’s SALT and intermediary. As P’s communication was limited to responses such as ‘yes, no’ etc, it was necessary for leading questions to be posed however these were broken down into questions so that the leading element was minimised. Examples of questions included ‘Do you want to talk about when you were living at home?’, ‘How did you feel when you were living at home?’, When you were living at home did anyone do X to you?’, and if the answer was affirmative, ‘How did it make you feel?’ These questions were devised to ensure that P’s broad wishes were communicated to the court notwithstanding the agreement between the parties, so that P felt that he had been listened to by the parties and the judge, but avoiding detailed questioning on the fact finding schedule which eventually proved to be unnecessary.

The question and answer sessions were broken down into more than one session to allow P to rest and refocus. With agreement they were filmed on a mobile phone and then played to the judge in his chambers. They were then also played to the other parties. This flexibility avoided all the delays and organisational problems associated with using the court video facilities.

By the end of the second day, agreement had been reached in the form of a detailed order. The judge held a further short hearing and again explained the outcome to P, coming into the courtroom and sitting by P to confirm what was going to happen. P was repositioned in his wheelchair to be solely in the line of sight of the judge and not the other parties.

Although this case required considerable practical arrangements to be made, forward planning was vital in ensuring that all elements of P’s participation was effective in meeting the goal of P’s enhanced involvement in the proceedings. Each case will be as different as each P is different. The more that proceedings in the Court of Protection are attended by P, or P’s participation is secured by other creative means, the more the judiciary, Court staff, lawyers and all the parties will become accustomed to putting P at the centre of the process, and making appropriate arrangements. This is the beginning of a new era in the Court of Protection. This is only right given the role of the Court in making decisions which are of such fundamental importance to P’s life.

 

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