Section 21A applications and legal aid

We reproduce below  a version of the case comment on the case of Briggs v Briggs [2016] EWCOP 48 which appeared in the December 2016 39 Essex Chambers Mental Capacity Law Newsletter.


In this case, Charles J had to decide whether it was possible for the question of whether it is a person’s best interests to continue to be given clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (‘CANH’) to be determined in proceedings brought under s.21A MCA 2005.   The question arose because the applicant – the wife of, and RPR for a man in a minimally conscious state – brought an application under s.21A MCA 2005 challenging the DOLS authorisation in place at the hospital he was in.  She did so on the express basis that doing so would allow her to claim legal aid on a non-means-tested basis so as to be able to have legal representation to be able to argue her case that continuation of CANH was not in his best interests.    Her position was opposed by the Official Solicitor, the Legal Aid Agency and the Secretary of State (as the Ministry of Justice and Department of Health collectively) on the basis that:

1. In the Official Solicitor’s case, non means tested funding is not available to present arguments relating to the care, support or treatment of a P as they related to conditions of detention, and were therefore outside the scope of s.21A (Article 5 not relating to conditions of detention);

2. On the Secretary of State’s case, such funding was only available where the issues related to “physical liberty.”

Charles J, in an extensive and wide-ranging judgment, came to the very clear conclusion that both of these arguments were wrong, and that it was entirely proper for the Court of Protection on a s.21A application to consider the question of whether CANH was in Mr Briggs’ best interests as part and parcel of the discharge of its functions under s.21A MCA 2005. The following conclusions from his judgment are of particular relevance or importance:

1. The clear conclusion that a DOLS authorisation does not authorise the care plan for, or medical treatment of P, or protect those who are providing them from liability for so doing. It is limited to authorising the deprivation of liberty that those acts create (paragraph 48);

2. The determination of whether the deprivation of liberty is in P’s best interests, necessary and proportionate “has to involve consideration of P’s circumstances in a hospital or care home and so of the care, support and treatment proposed or provided to meet P’s needs in them even if it is limited to a consideration of their effect” (paragraph 50), and hence “the determination of the questions posed by the definition of the best interests condition must involve a consideration of: i) the impact of possible and available alternatives and issues of degree, and ii) as far as reasonably ascertainable P’s past and present wishes and feelings, beliefs and values and factors that P would be likely to consider if he were able to do so” (paragraph 52);

3. That generally the COP should take control of all aspects of the case when proceedings are brought under s.21A MCA (even if an authorisation should remain in place to allow non-means-tested legal aid to continue to be justified: paragraphs 29-34). This was particularly the case in the proceedings before him given the nature of the CANH best interests issue (paragraph 70), in which the determinative or central issue was whether CANH is in Mr Briggs’ best interests and the conclusion on it should found an order under s. 16(2) MCA 2005. The determination of that issue by the COP would found and so was directly relevant to its consideration of its exercise of its functions under s.21A (which it can exercise whether or not proceedings have been issued under s.21A) (paragraph 76);

4. Whatever the precise requirements of Article 5 ECHR, a literal construction of DOLS shows that they went beyond that required to meet Article 5 and effectively include the best interests test that is applied whenever a decision has to be made pursuant to the MCA for a person who lacks capacity to make that decision himself (paragraph 87). This showed that:

91. […] in a case such as this when the purpose of the placement in the hospital is obviously for care and treatment the “all or nothing approach” advanced effectively on the basis that P will continue to be deprived of his liberty whatever regime of treatment is put in place (and so whether or not CANH is in Mr Briggs’ best interests) runs contrary to a best interests consideration of the circumstances P (Mr Briggs) is in on the ground as it seeks to exclude a consideration of P’s views etc. under s. 4(6) and whether the conditions can be improved or made less restrictive under s. 1(6) of the MCA.

Alternatively, if it is said that the views of P on (life sustaining or other) treatment can be taken into account in considering whether he should be deprived of his liberty (or his personal liberty should be removed) this takes one back to the central issue in this case namely the impact of Mr Briggs’ views etc. under s. 4(6) on whether treatment should be withheld with the consequence that he should be allowed to die. It would be very artificial and in my view callous to say that this was irrelevant to the issues relating to his physical liberty, or the termination of the exiting DOLS authorisation, because during the period after the cessation of the CANH leading up to his death his physical liberty would not change even if (as is at least likely) he moves from the hospital to a hospice.

5. The acknowledgement that the best interests assessor will not be able to carry out the intense scrutiny that the COP can and would have practical difficulties in challenging the medical decisions that found protection from liability under s. 5 MCA. Charles J noted, however, that the assessor could reach his best interests assessment on the basis of the views of the treating team leaving it to P or his RPR to challenge the authorisation or put a condition on the authorisation or limit its duration to enable any dispute to be put before the COP (paragraph 94);

6. Further, even if the best interests requirement under DOLS was limited in the way that the Official Solicitor and the Secretary of State argued, the best interests test as then applied by the Court of Protection in determining whether CANH should be continued was related to matters arising under s.21A(2)(a)-(d), because (1) it was related to the best interests condition of the best interests requirement; (2) and provided the answers or information relevant to the answers to the questions of: (a) the period of the standard authorisation (e.g. until a move to a hospice or a rehabilitation unit); (b) the purpose of the standard authorisation, namely whether the treatment should or should not include CANH; and (c) conditions of the standard authorisation (e.g. about preparations to be made for a move).   These answers informed – Charles J held – what the COP can order under s.21A(3) by way of variation or termination of the standard authority itself or by direction to the supervisory body (paragraphs 96-99).   Charles J noted in this regard that:

This view of the width of what the COP can properly do under s. 21A is confirmed when other types of case are considered. For example, when P is in a care home the best interests issues can encompass changes in the care plan (incorporated into or on which the standard authorisation is based) involving less restrictive options, the giving of medication covertly or in particular circumstances, the use of restraint, more visits to the community and contact. Even if they are outside the factors to be considered under the qualifying requirements (and so the best interests condition) they:

i) inform and so relate to the matters referred to in s. 21A (2)(b) to (d), and

ii) inform the order or orders to be made under s.21A(3), (6) and (7) in respect of the DOLS authorisation that has been granted (and if necessary extended by the COP applying the approach in Re UF).

7. Finally, Charles J noted that, on a purposive intention of the legislation, Parliament would not have intended the COP to be concerned with the distinctions advanced in this case by the Secretary of State, the LAA and the Official Solicitor:

108. Absent the issue relating to the availability of non means test legal aid, which it is common ground is irrelevant, these distinctions are not agreed between them, give rise to fine, difficult and potentially emotionally draining issues (e.g. whether a decision that leaves out of account the views etc. of P on whether he should be detained at place A or place B relates to his personal liberty or a deprivation of his liberty within Article 5 having regard to its subjective element) and are irrelevant because the COP can deal with all issues in this case in an application brought in reliance on s. 21A or an application brought seeking orders under ss. 15 and 16 of the MCA. […]

Charles J therefore held that Mrs Briggs could properly raise the issue of whether CANH should be continued as part of her s.21A challenge as RPR for her husband. We address the substantive decision in relation to her husband’s treatment in the separate case comment below.


On one view, it would appear odd that a s.21A application could be used as a vehicle to challenge decisions about CANH, and it is undoubtedly the case that Mrs Briggs was “lucky” that there happened to be in place a DOLS authorisation at the hospital to allow her to do so (note that Charles J expressly did not decide whether or not in fact Mr Briggs was deprived of his liberty, as this was assumed to be the case for purposes of the preliminary issue decided here).

However, once one steps away from the specific place that CANH has as a type of serious medical treatment (‘SMT’) and the mindset of SMT cases, Charles J’s logic would seem impeccable.   DOLS may have been designed to plug the Bournewood gap, and to that end could have been limited solely to a determining whether or not the deprivation of liberty was necessary and proportionate (the test for Article 5 purposes).   However, the scheme undoubtedly went further to include a specific best interests requirement which, in turn, requires the application of the best interests test under s.4 MCA 2005.  Once the best interests genie was let out of the bottle, that must carry with it the connotation that those concerned with considering the requirement (and the court on a s.21A application) must have a wide view of the nature and purpose of the authorisation and – in turn – asking whether the care and treatment which gives rise to the need for it is, in fact, in the person’s best interests.

It is, perhaps, not surprising – given the implications for legal aid in s.21A applications – that the Secretary of State/Legal Aid Agency are seeking permission to appeal to put the best interests genie back in its bottle.