Senior Judge Hilder and the Operations Manager of the Court of Protection have provided an update on the court’s performance and activities during the COVID-19 outbreak, and work being done to assist practitioners. The letter (dated 21 May 2020) can be found here.
In Re SF (Injunctions)  EWCOP 19, Keehan J was concerned with a young woman, SF, who had a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and also had learning disabilities. She resided in a supported living establishment where she received 1:1 support 24 hours per day. In September 2019 the care and support provider became aware that SF was communicating with a number of men via social media and the internet. Further, it became apparent that some of these men were attending her placement and having sexual relations with her. Only one of those men had been identified, as VK.
On 28 January 2020 the local authority applied for an injunction against VK to prevent him from attending SF’s accommodation. On 5 February 2020 the local authority applied for an injunction in the same terms against ‘persons unknown’.
Keehan J had not, initially, been persuaded that the Court of Protection had the power to grant an injunction against either a party or a non-party. He convened a hearing on the specific point, and this judgment contains his reasons for concluding that it does have the power, in summary because:
i) s.47(1) of the 2005 Act is drafted in wide and unambiguous terms;
ii) it must follow that the Court of Protection has the power which may be exercised by the High Court pursuant to s.37(1) of the 1981 Act to grant injunctive relief;
iii) this conclusion is fortified by the terms of s.17(1)(c) of the 2005 Act which permits the court to prohibit contact between a named person and P;
iv) it is further fortified by the terms of ss. 16(2) & (5) of the 2005 Act. The provisions of s.16(5) are drafted in wide terms and enable the court to “make such further orders or give such directions…….as it thinks necessary or expedient for giving effect to, or otherwise in connection with, an order…….made by it under subsection (2)”;
v) finally, the 2017 Rules, r.21 & PD21A, make provision for the enforcement of orders made by the Court of Protection including committal to prison for proven breaches of court orders.
Whilst the judgment is a careful analysis of the position, it is (with respect) a little odd in 2020 for it even to have been a question-mark over whether the Court of Protection had such a power. The chapter in the Court of Protection Handbook addressing enforcement notes – for instance – the case of W v M in 2011, in which Baker J had observed that there was “no doubt about the power of the Court of Protection to make injunctions.” Indeed, until recently suspended by COVID-19, the entire approach of the transparency Practice Direction depended upon the making of injunctions in the transparency order in each case against identified individuals/categories of individuals.
What is more interesting, but tantalisingly not addressed in detail in SF’s case, is the power to make an injunction against persons unknown. This power has not to date been addressed in a reported case, although in EXB v FDZ  EWHC 3456 (QB), Foskett J, sitting both as a High Court judge and a judge of the Court of Protection, was asked in the context of a case as to whether an individual should be told the size of their personal injury award to consider making “an order – effectively in the form of an injunction – preventing any person who knows of the size of the award from disclosing that information to the Claimant. It would be akin to an order for possession against ‘persons unknown’ in possession proceedings.” Foskett J declined to do so, because whilst he could “see the attractions of a mandatory order such as that suggested […], I am not at all sure how such an order could be policed and how anyone in breach of it could be dealt with. An order with a penal notice attached seems somewhat disproportionate and draconian in the circumstances and an order without teeth is arguably an order that should not be made” (paragraph 42). Foskett J made an order (under both s.16 and s.15(1)(c) MCA 2005) to the effect that “[i]t shall be unlawful for any person (whether the Claimant’s deputy or any other person who has knowledge of the amount of the Settlement) to convey by any means to the Claimant information about the amount of the Settlement, save that this declaration does not make unlawful the conveyance of descriptive information to the Claimant to the effect that the Settlement is sufficient to meet his reasonable needs for life.” However, because of his previous analysis, what Foskett J did not then do was then go one stage further and consider whether he could, in fact, seek to back such an order by way of an injunction.
The order against VK could clearly be made as a step required to enforce the decision of the Court of Protection (permitted by s.17(1)(c) MCA 2005) to permit contact between VK – as a named individual – and SF. That would not apply in relation to the injunction against ‘persons unknown.’ However, as a matter of logic, if the Court of Protection has the same ‘powers, rights and privileges’ as the High Court, it is necessarily to look back up the line to the High Court for the answer. The Supreme Court has relatively recently considered the position – by reference to civil litigation – in Cameron v Liverpool Victoria Insurance Co Ltd  UKSC 6. Lord Sumption, on behalf of the Supreme Court, identified that that there are conceptual difficulties in relation to the bringing of a claim in relation to those who are not only anonymous but cannot even be identified. However, where, as in a case such as the present, the potential respondents are potentially identifiable (and could also, in principle, be served with the application form – by a person waiting at the placement and giving it to them), these difficulties do not arise, proceedings can be brought, and injunctions then granted to enforce the relief granted in those proceedings (see also Canada Goose UK Retail Ltd & Anor v Persons Unknown & Anor  EWHC 2459 (QB)).
The Vice-President of the Court of Protection, Hayden J, has written to Directors of Adult Social Services (in a letter which can be shared more widely) to highlight a number of key points relating to the operation of the MCA 2005 in the context of COVID-19 and care homes.
The wide-ranging letter takes in remote assessments and a protocol for managing DoLs prepared by Lorraine Currie, MCA/DoLS lead for Shropshire County Council; it notes that:
It was expressed to me, at the Hive group, that there appear to be some who believe that careful adherence to proper legal process and appropriate authorisation may now, at times, be required to give way to other pressing welfare priorities. I understand how this view might take hold in establishments battling to bring calm and reassurance to intensely distressed people, both in the Care Homes and within their wider families. It is important, however, that I signal that whilst I am sympathetic to the pressures, I am very clear that any such view is entirely misconceived. The deprivation of the liberty of any individual in a democratic society, holding fast to the rule of law, will always require appropriate authorisation. Nothing has changed. The Mental Capacity Act 2005, the Court of Protection Rules and the fundamental rights and freedoms which underpin them are indispensable safeguards to the frail and vulnerable. (emphasis in original)
The letter also notes that:
There has been a striking and troubling drop in the number of Section 21A (MCA 2005) applications which has occurred, in some areas, alongside a significant reduction in referrals to advocacy services. It needs to be emphasised that where there has been a failure properly to authorise deprivation of liberty one of the consequences is that, in the absence of authorisation, there will be a loss of entitlement to public funding and inevitably an obstruction to the individuals absolute right to challenge the deprivation of liberty. For the present I simply highlight my concern and restate the importance of the statutory requirements.
In terms of remote assessments, this document prepared by Lorraine Currie is of considerable assistance; she also contributed to a webinar for the National Mental Capacity Forum on the subject, which can be found here.
Hayden J has published a letter (4 May) providing an update upon the steps taken by the Court of Protection to respond to the pandemic, and, in particular, the work of the Hive group since its establishment in late March 2020 across the full spectrum of the Court’s work.
The quarterly update to the Court of Protection Handbook (1 May 2020) is now online, available here. It builds on the previous update (1 February 2020) to provide a comprehensive updating to the text of the third edition of the book, and includes both the key materials relating to the impact of COVID-19 on the functioning of the Court, and significant cases on practice and procedure in the last 6 months.
In two decisions handed down on 30 April 2020, Re A (Children) (Remote Hearings)  EWCA Civ 583 and Re B (Children) (Remote Hearing : Interim Care Order)  EWCA Civ 584, the Court of Appeal undertook a stock-take of the position in relation to remote hearings. Both were decided by Sir Andrew McFarlane, the President of the Family Division, and Davies and Peter Jackson LJJ. Re B is primarily of importance for indicating how the pressures of the current situation led to a series of cumulative missteps, including by the Guardian and the judge. In Re A, the Court of Appeal to set out a number of “cardinal points and relevant factors with a view to assisting courts to make appropriate decisions in this changing landscape.” Although the cases concerned children, the principles are equally applicable to cases before the Court of Protection.
The key points from Re A are as follows:
i) The decision whether to conduct a remote hearing, and the means by which each individual case may be heard, are a matter for the judge or magistrate who is to conduct the hearing. It is a case management decision over which the first instance court will have a wide discretion, based on the ordinary principles of fairness, justice and the need to promote the welfare of the subject child or children. An appeal is only likely to succeed where a particular decision falls outside the range of reasonable ways of proceeding that were open to the court and is, therefore, held to be wrong.
ii) Guidance or indications issued by the senior judiciary as to those cases which might, or might not, be suitable for a remote hearing are no more than that, namely guidance or illustrations aimed at supporting the judge or magistrates in deciding whether or not to conduct a remote hearing in a particular case.
iii) The temporary nature of any guidance, indications or even court decisions on the issue of remote hearings should always be remembered. This will become all the more apparent once the present restrictions on movement start to be gradually relaxed. From week to week the experience of the courts and the profession is developing, so that what might, or might not, have been considered appropriate at one time may come to be seen as inappropriate at a later date, or vice versa. For example, it is the common experience of many judges that remote hearings take longer to set up and undertake than normal face-to-face hearings; consequently, courts are now listing fewer cases each day than was the case some weeks ago. On the other hand, some court buildings remain fully open and have been set up for safe, socially isolated, hearings and it may now be possible to consider that a case may be heard safely in those courts when that was not the case in the early days of ‘lockdown’.
The factors that are likely to influence the decision on whether to proceed with a remote hearing will vary from case to case, court to court and judge to judge. We consider that they will include:
i) The importance and nature of the issue to be determined; is the outcome that is sought an interim or final order?
ii) Whether there is a special need for urgency, or whether the decision could await a later hearing without causing significant disadvantage to the child or the other parties;
iii) Whether the parties are legally represented;
iv) The ability, or otherwise, of any lay party (particularly a parent or person with parental responsibility) to engage with and follow remote proceedings meaningfully. This factor will include access to and familiarity with the necessary technology, funding, intelligence/personality, language, ability to instruct their lawyers (both before and during the hearing), and other matters;
v) Whether evidence is to be heard or whether the case will proceed on the basis of submissions only;
vi) The source of any evidence that is to be adduced and assimilated by the court. For example, whether the evidence is written or oral, given by a professional or lay witness, contested or uncontested, or factual or expert evidence;
vii) The scope and scale of the proposed hearing. How long is the hearing expected to last?
viii) The available technology; telephone or video, and if video, which platform is to be used. A telephone hearing is likely to be a less effective medium than using video;
ix) The experience and confidence of the court and those appearing before the court in the conduct of remote hearings using the proposed technology;
x) Any safe (in terms of potential COVID 19 infection) alternatives that may be available for some or all of the participants to take part in the court hearing by physical attendance in a courtroom before the judge or magistrates.
The facts of Re A illustrate the challenges faced at the moment, in the context of an individual (the child’s father) with “limited abilities, and some disabilities, which render him less able to take part in a remote hearing. He has been diagnosed as dyslexic. He is unused to reading. He has a short attention span, is emotionally fragile and brittle and quickly becomes exasperated.” The Court of Appeal emphasised that “[t]he concept of fairness and the need for a lay party to ‘engage’ in the process includes the ability of that person to follow and to understand what transpires at a court hearing at least to an adequate degree and then to be able to instruct their lawyers adequately and in a timely manner.” The Court of Appeal also considered problematic the approach proposed by the judge a hybrid one which would have seen the parents giving evidence before him in person in court, but in the absence of their representatives (who would attend by video):
58. […] Recently, in the judgment given in Re P (A Child: Remote Hearings)  EWFC 32 at paragraph 26 the President stressed the importance of the court being able to see all the parties in the court room. Although that case was specifically directed to the hearing of allegations of Factitious or Induced Illness, the more general point that a judge will be in a better position to assess the evidence of a witness who gives evidence live from a witness box than one who speaks over a video link is plainly right. There is, however, a need for caution when the only witness(es) required to attend court are the lay parties when others, for example the key social worker, are not. When a lay party is required to attend court, but his or her advocate is not, the cause for concern at the imbalance in the process must be heightened. Consideration must be given to the potentially exposed position of a witness giving live evidence in front of a judge in the absence of his or her lawyers or any of the other parties and in response to questions asked over a video link. The judge does not appear to have considered whether in this particular case it was reasonable to expect these parents to be placed in that potentially daunting position. When this is placed in the balance alongside the other factors which establish a lack of a fair process it gives them additional weight.