“Finally, a happy ending to a tragic story”

In two excoriating judgments  (London Borough of Lambeth v MCS (by her litigation friend the Official Solicitor) (1) Lambeth CCG (2) [2018] EWCOP 14;  and London Borough of Lambeth v MCS (by her litigation friend the Official Solicitor) (1); and Lambeth CCG (2)[2018] EWCOP 20), Newton J has underlined the disastrous- and costly- consequences of “disorganised, muddled and unfocused decision-making”.  He was highly critical of the the failure of two statutory bodies concerned to make progress in repatriating MCS, a Colombian woman who suffered hypoxic brain injury as a result of a cardiac arrest in 2014. There was no dispute that MCS, as a result of her brain injury, lacked capacity to make decisions about her residence and care, nor was there any dispute that it was in MCS’ best interests to be repatriated to Colombia in accordance with what had been absolutely consistent wishes.

Although proceedings were commenced by MCS’ RPR in 2016 (as a result of the RPR’s frustration with the delay since 2014 to make the repatriation arrangements), it was not until January 2018 that the judge was able to sign off a plan for MCS’ return to her home, which went smoothly and  provided what the judge described as a “happy ending to a tragic story”.

Newton J used uncompromising language in describing the failings of the local authority: “shocking”, “astonishing”, efforts that were “facile.. ineffective” and documentation that was “depressingly scant…unedifying”.  The impact of all of this is graphically summarised at [9] in the first judgment:

“Having now had several hearings (in an application that itself was, or should have been, as I have said, unnecessary), I can only begin to imagine P’s sense of frustration and loss at being kept here for years against her wishes, and for no good reason. As even the proceedings have demonstrated so fully, the arrangements could and should have been established and implemented long ago, years ago, but because of disorganised, muddled and unfocused decision making, and what has at times verged on an arrogance, P has just had to wait. It should be remembered that P had been kept here against her wishes, at a cost to the taxpayer of over £2,000 per week. If the authority had done what it should have done in a timely professional manner, not only could they have saved themselves over £100,000 a year, and saved the cost to the taxpayer of these protracted High Court proceedings, they could have avoided P the years of misery from being kept a prisoner here, against her will.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was followed by an adverse costs order in the second judgment. Newton J commented at [2]:

“Proceedings brought in the Court of Protection almost never attract an enquiry into the issue of costs, essentially since they are inquisitional in nature, the general costs principles do not sit easily within the parameters of the Court’s considerations. However, as the President recognised in Re G [2014] EW COP 5, there will occasionally be cases but there must be good reason before the Court will contemplate departing from the general rule. For example an order for costs was made in Re SW [2017] EW COP 7 where the application was “scarcely coherent … totally without merit … misconceived and vexatious”. These proceedings would not necessarily be categorised in that way, but what if they were or should have been fundamentally unnecessary, that is to say they should never have been brought? Or what if the conduct of the proceedings been so poor, so incompetent that not only did they take much longer than they should (thus unnecessarily necessitating P remaining for so very much longer in difficult circumstances) and requiring many extra unnecessary hearings? In those circumstances is the Court not able to mark its disapproval by the consideration and award of costs.”

The judge did not accept that the statutory bodies had been (as they submitted) “assiduous” in trying to arrange MCS’ repatriation.  He did accept that the operation to return MCS to Colombia was novel for those concerned with making the arrangements.  Despite this he was highly critical of the failure to make “basic common-sense enquiries” with the Colombian Embassy and to apply sufficient professional focus.  The judge commented at [4] that

“It should not be thought that I overlook the care that was provided to P, nor, ultimately her successful repatriation, but what is impossible to ignore is the disorganised thinking, planning and management which resulted in her detention here for so very much longer than necessary.”

The judge ordered “without hesitation” that the local authority and CCG should fund the costs of the proceedings.  This is an important reminder that simply bringing a case before the court, and achieving the right outcome in the end, will not avoid the penalty of a costs order if there are failings of the magnitude that occurred in this case. The fact that the case involves an issue which may well be novel and operationally complex does not negate the obligation to bring sufficient professional focus to bear in order to draw the case to a timely conclusion.

 

 

 

Advertisements