Deckchairs on the legal Titanic? The Re X saga continues

In Re KT & Ors [2018] EWCOP 1, Charles J has returned – again – to the vexed question of how Re X applications (now, strictly, COPDOL11 applications) can proceed where there is no-one can properly play the part of Rule 3A (now Rule 1.2(5)) representative.  Charles J considered four test cases of the 300 or so that have now been stayed in accordance with his decision in Re JM [2016] EWCOP 15, there being no family member or friend is available for appointment as P’s Rule 1.2(5) representative.

Background

In early 2017, the Government Legal Department had written to local authority applicants in stayed cases to indicate that (1) the most appropriate course of action was for the local authority to identify a professional advocate; but (2) where one was not available, the local authority should liaise to take forward the process of commissioning a Court of Protection General Visitor to complete a report under s.49 MCA 2005. The GLD letters indicated that Ministers had agreed to provide funding to HMCTS to enable greater use of visitors by the COP. On the basis of these letters, two applicant local authorities sought to lift stays in four cases, which were listed before Charles J as test cases.

Charles J, it is fair to say, was unimpressed by the GLD letters, noting that they were devoid both of detail as to extra funding, and also how and why it was now said that a professional advocate had or had always had been a practically available option in a significant number of cases. Following directions made in the test cases, the Secretary of State filed submissions which asserted that local authority applicants owed a duty under s.6 Human Rights Act 1998 “to facilitate the speedy resolution of the application by (for example) ensuring that a professional advocate is appointed to represent P’s interests so far as necessary“. It was asserted that this duty: “falls into the same category as the DOLS duties which were considered in Liverpool City Council,” the unsuccessful judicial review brought by local authorities to seek to compel greater funding to discharge their DOLS obligations. As Charles J noted that, this was a radical departure from the position that had previously been taken by the Secretary of State in JM, where it had been agreed that local authority and other applicants do not owe a statutory duty to provide representation for P in the COP.

Whose obligation to provide representation for P?

Charles J expressed the preliminary view that the Secretary of State’s argument as to the obligation of local authorities under the HRA was wrong, running counter to the decision on the obligations of a local authority in Re A and C [2010] EWHC 978 (in particular at paragraph 96) and its application in Staffordshire County Council v SRK and others [2016] EWCOP 27 and [2016] EWCA Civ 1317.  However, even if they did owe such a duty, Charles J held that this did not assist the Secretary of State because the central, statutory, obligation lay with the Secretary of State for Justice to ensure that the COP, as a public authority, acts lawfully and so can apply a Convention compliant and fair procedure.

Visitor as Convention-compliant procedure?

Charles J agreed with the agreed position of both the applicant local authorities and the Secretary of State that the appointment of a Visitor would provide a fair and Convention compliant procedure because it would provide the essence of P’s Article 5 procedural rights, which had been identified in Re NRA & Others [2015] EWCOP 59 as requiring an independent person to: (1) elicit P’s wishes and feelings and make them and the matters mentioned in s.4(6) MCA 2005 known to the Court without causing P any or any unnecessary distress; (2) critically examine from the perspective of P’s best interests, and with a detailed knowledge of P, the pros and cons of a care package, and whether it is the least restrictive available option; (3) keep the implementation of the care package under review and raise points relating to it and changes in P’s behaviour or health. Charles J set out draft directions which could be made in cases where a Visitor was proposed.  Charles J acknowledged that there were both advantages and disadvantages to the appointment of a Visitor over a family member or friend, the advantages being the independence and expertise of the visitor, the disadvantages being the absence of a more regular review on the ground by someone who knows P and wants to promote their best interests.

Having conducted a detailed review of the (depressing) evidence before him, Charles J did not consider that the offer to fund Visitors by the Secretary of State was likely to offer anything but a short-term or a very partial solution to the issue. However, he held that this should not stop it being used for so long as it was available in practice.

Order of preference

In light of the matters set out above, Charles J had to resolve an issue as to whether, where no family member/friend is available to as Rule 1.2(5) representative, the second choice should be a Visitor (the local authorities’ position) or a professional representative (the Secretary of State’s position). In reality, as he noted, the dispute was based upon the budgetary battle between local and central government. In the abstract, Charles J considered, the appointment of a professional who could act independently as a Rule 1.2(5) representative and carry out regular reviews of P’s placement and care package on the ground would in most cases be likely to have advantages over the appointment of a Visitor because it would provide a better basis of and for review and equivalent expertise and independence to that provided by a Visitor.

However, given that there was no evidence that professional representatives were actually practically available in most cases, Charles J held that if he had to make a choice, he would choose a Visitor. He recorded the sensible acceptance by the Secretary of State that generally the COP can and should accept an assertion from an applicant authority that a professional Rule representative is not available for appointment at face value.

Joinder of the Crown/further stays

Charles J has no intention of letting the Government off the hook, noting at para 91 that:

In cases where a visitor is appointed (or some other available procedure is adopted to enable an application or review to proceed) there is no need to, or purpose for joining, or continuing the joinder of, the Crown. But, as soon as any such practically available process is no longer available I consider that, for the reasons given in JM and earlier in this judgment the COP should join the Crown to and stay such applications and reviews.

Way ahead

Charles J suggested that the Secretary of State, the Public Guardian and the COP (through the Senior Judge) try to agree a process by which the stays are lifted in the approximately 330 stayed cases on the same basis as in these cases. He indicated that in cases in which local authorities (or, presumably, other applicants) have not sought to lift the stay, an appropriate course would be for the Secretary of State to apply to lift the stay in a manner that ensures that a visitor will be available for appointment in each case. However, he left the ultimate decision as to how best to clear the backlog to the triumvirate set out above.

Comment

The decision in Cheshire West has caused huge resource implications. The Law Commission has estimated the cost of full compliance at £2.155 billion per year. One of the local authorities before the court, Wolverhampton, had brought 24 applications over the past 3 years, and estimated that that three times the present number should have been brought, the numbers being likely to increase with service users moving to supported living. The Law Commission had estimated that around 53,000 people are deprived of liberty outside hospitals and care homes, and calculated that this would cost local authorities and the NHS £609.5 million per year to authorise by obtaining welfare orders from the COP.   Only a very small fraction of these applications are being made, although between January and March 2017, there were 969 applications relating to deprivation of liberty, up 43% on the equivalent quarter in 2016 (678). Of these, 600 were Re X applications.

In the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Charles J considered that funding to provide an additional 200 Visitor reports a year hardly scratched the surface of the problem. As he recognised, his analysis of the position represents, in essence, the re-arranging of deckchairs on the legal Titanic. LPS – and/or or a radical rethinking of the law relating to deprivation of liberty – cannot come soon enough.

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