“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.

 

 

 

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Costs and test cases

In a short judgment Mr Justice Baker declined to award the Official Solicitor his costs after a CCG withdrew applications in relation to a series of test cases.  You can read the judgment here.

The case concerned applications in relation to the living arrangements of incapacitated adults for whom the CCG had responsibility.  All were living in their own home and the CCG sought clarification as to whether such individuals satisfied the “acid test”.  The CCG also questioned whether the responsibility for any deprivation of liberty was imputable to the state solely by virtue of the fact that it provided NHS care for P.  If either the acid test was not satisfied or the arrangements were not imputable to the state, of course, the adults concerned would not be deprived of their liberty for the purpose of Article 5 and thus the CCG would not be required to make an application to court for a welfare order under section 16 MCA 2005.

The Official Solicitor was invited to act for the four adults originally involved in the test case.  Two were not eligible for legal aid and it was not considered reasonable to utilise P’s funds for this purpose.  Subsequently one of these cases could proceed and the CCG applied to withdraw its application because the practical impact would be very limited; the CCG had reviewed its position in light of the OS’ analysis and the CCG considered that both the relevance and the strength of the application had been limited by the Law Commission’s proposed reforms.  The Official Solicitor sought his costs, submitting that in reality the application was akin to a civil claim where he had succeeded.

Baker J refused the application.  He gave no weight to the argument that the costs would be borne by the public purse in the form of the Legal Aid Agency stating that a legally aided party should be treated in exactly the same way as one without a legal aid certificate.  He rejected the application for costs in these terms:

 

(1) I do not accept the suggestion that this was not a typical welfare case. The application concerned a series of welfare cases in which an important preliminary issue arose on a point of law.(2) As is widely recognised, the law concerning deprivation of liberty under the Mental Capacity Act is in a state of some uncertainty. That is why it has been the subject of a review by the Law Commission whose final report contains recommendations for substantial reform. The government has now accepted the report and the majority of its recommendations, and acknowledged that the current Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards should be replaced “as a matter of pressing urgency” (see government response 14 March 2018).

(3) It was in my judgment understandable that the applicant sought guidance on the issue of the impact of the “acid test” on cases involving incapacitated adults living at home, given the large number of individuals in those circumstances for whom it is responsible. In the words of rule 159(2)(b), it was reasonable for the applicant to raise and pursue this issue.

(4) Given the constraints under which all public bodies operate, the applicant was entirely justified in keeping under review the question of whether to pursue the case. Indeed, it would have been remiss if it had not done so. The fact that the applicant decided to abort the proceedings was a reasonable decision. To use the words in rule 159(2)(b) again, it was reasonable for the applicant to decide not to contest the issue in the light of developments in the litigation as described above.

(5) Although it is arguable that the difficulties in the individual cases could have been anticipated, I do not think that the applicant’s failure to do so at an earlier stage could be described as litigation conduct of the sort to justify departing from the general rule.

(6) Although my comments in G v E (Costs) above were made in a different context, they do have some relevance here. Professionals working in this field often face difficult judgements and decisions. The applicant made the decision to ask the court to consider the preliminary issue which, as Mr Ruck Keene fairly conceded, involved propositions of general and considerable importance. Subsequently, however, in the light of developments within the cases, the applicant decided not to pursue the issue. In all the circumstances, I do not consider that its decision-making and overall conduct justifies a departure from the general rule as to costs.

Comment:  This is a useful application of the principles concerning costs to an unusual situation namely where an important preliminary issue arises in a “typical welfare case”.  Key to this was the judge’s assessment that it was reasonable for the CCG to seek guidance about the applicability of Article 5 given the significant financial impact in a time of financial constraints had the CCG been successful; but that it was also reasonable to keep the need for the proceedings under review and to seek to withdraw them when the issue, although fascinating, had become academic.

Costs, HRA damages and the CoP

In Re TL [2017] EWCOP 1, Baker J has confirmed that, where claims for damages and/or declarations under the HRA 1998 are brought in the Court of Protection, the Civil Procedure Rules 1998, rather than the Court of Protection Costs Rules will apply (see paras 33 and 34).  In consequence, the normal costs rules – and risks – applying to civil litigation will apply.

That having been said, and in light of the recent spate of cases concerning HRA claims and care proceedings covered in the March 39 Essex Chambers Mental Capacity Report (to which can also be added Re SW & Re TW [2017] EWHC 450 (Fam)), it is increasingly obvious that it will only rarely be appropriate to bring such HRA cases within the four walls of the CoP.  Rather, separate County Court (or High Court proceedings) should be brought – or at least intimated, with settlement or other ADR being infinitely preferable.

Legal aid for historic human rights breaches in the CoP

Thank you to Charlotte Haworth-Hird of Bindmans for the following report and attached order which clears up an important point about funding in the CoP.

We have recently acted in a judicial review regarding the availability of funding to bring Human Rights Act claims within the Court of Protection. The claim has now successfully settled but unfortunately, the Legal Aid Agency refused to publicise its concession so the Official Solicitor considered it would be helpful to do so for other practitioners.

The LAA has conceded that legal aid funding is available to P to bring a claim for damages under the Human Rights Act, within the Court of Protection, for both ongoing and historic breaches. As with funding for other HRA claims, the grant of funding would be subject to application of paragraph 22 of Part 1 of Schedule 1 of LASPO.

The background to the claim is that an application for funding was made to enable P to bring an HRA claim within existing Court of Protection proceedings in respect of breaches of her Article 5 and 8 rights. Those breaches were historic. The LAA argued that funding for such claims within the Court of Protection was outside the scope of LASPO as the wording of LASPO meant that funding was only available to bring an HRA claim within the Court of Protection for an ongoing breach. The LAA argued that P could apply for funding to bring the claim in the High Court (or County Court) but that funding would not be available to pursue the claim in the Court of Protection. This decision was upheld by the LAA on review and following the issue of proceedings, the LAA served a defence maintaining the same. However, after permission was granted by the Administrative Court , the LAA conceded that its statutory interpretation was incorrect and funding is in fact available to bring historic HRA claims in the Court of Protection.

This is a very helpful clarification given the increased costs that would be incurred if P were required in every case to issue a claim in the High Court or County Court. There will, of course, still be cases in which it would be appropriate to issue a separate claim in the County Court or High Court and funding is also available for that, subject to the appropriate means and merits tests being satisfied.

Status of declarations in the Court of Protection.

In MASM v MMAM, MM and London Borough of Hackney, Mr Justice Hayden considered what sanctions could be imposed for actions made by a party to Court of Protection proceedings who had deliberately acted in defiance of declarations.  Could these be regarded as contempt of court and could committal to prison result?

You can read the judgment here.  In brief MM, MASM’s grandson, had not opposed declarations that it was in MASM’s best interests to reside in a care home, and authorising any resultant deprivation of liberty.  No injunctions were made at the time and therefore the order contained no penal notice.  Subsequently Hayden J found that MM (acting with the assistance of his father Mr MASM) had arranged the removal of MASM to Saudi Arabia and had provided an account to the court which the judge found to be “a complete fabrication”.  He was critical of the what he described as the “supine” response of the local authority commenting that “vulnerable adults have to be protected as sedulously as vulnerable children” whilst making it plain that it is the obligation that is similar and not those entitled to such protection.

It was urged upon the judge that – in analogy to the wardship or parens patriae jurisdiction- an action hampering the court’s objectives could itself be an interference with the administration of justice.  The judge did not accept this, drawing an important distinction between the paternalistic quality of wardship “which does not easily equate to and is perhaps even inconsistent with the protection of the incapacitous adult”.

Ultimately the judge concluded that a best interests declaration does not always mean that any alternative course of action is contrary to the individual’s welfare and although MM had acted cynically and frustrated the objectives of the litigation, he was not acting in defiance of an order and was not exposed to contempt proceedings. The current case was unusual and there are many cases where partners or relatives struggle to accept the outcome of proceedings and “it would to my mind be disproportionate and indeed corrosive of the co-operation ultimately required for the shadow of potential contempt proceedings to fall too darkly over cases such as this.”

The judge concluded with the following guidance:

“i)Many orders pursuant to Section 16 seem to me to be perfectly capable of being drafted in clear unequivocal and even, where appropriate, prescriptive language. This Section provides for the ‘making of orders’ as well as ‘taking decisions’ in relation to P’s personal welfare, property or affairs. Where the issues are highly specific or indeed capable of being drafted succinctly as an order they should be so, rather than as more nebulous declarations. Where a determination of the court is capable of being expressed with clarity there are many and obvious reasons why it should be so;

ii) In cases which require that P, for whatever reason, reside at a particular place the parties and the court should always consider whether to reinforce that order, under Section 16, by a declaration, pursuant to Section 15, clarifying that it will be unlawful to remove P or to permit or facilitate removal other than by order of the court;

iii) In cases where the evidence suggests there may be potential for a party to disobey the order or frustrate the plans for P approved by the court as in his best interest, the Official Solicitor or Local Authority should consider inviting the court to seek undertakings from the relevant party. If there is a refusal to give undertakings then orders may be appropriate;

iv) Where a potential breach is identified the Local Authority and/or the Official Solicitor should regard it as professional duty to bring the matter to the immediate attention to the court. This obligation is a facet of the requirement to act sedulously in the protection of the vulnerable;

v) Thought must always be given to the objectives and proportionality of any committal proceedings see Re Whiting (supra).”

He directed that MM pay personally the entire costs of the proceedings.

“A sensible decision, not the pursuit of perfection”

Mr Justice Peter Jackson has expressed concern about the costs and delay – and associated “human misery” and drain on manpower- in two Court of Protection cases, which in his conservative estimate cost around £9,000 per month, largely paid for by the State.

 

You can read his strong judgment here. It echoes some of the comments made in the family sphere (V v V, [2011] EWHC 1190 (FAM); J v J [2014] EWHC (Fam)).

 

The following comments should be noted by practitioners:

 

  • The inconsistency of “extravagance” in CoP proceedings with the parties’ duty to assist the court in furthering the over-riding objective;
  • The importance of restraining excessive costs where P’s money is being spent on deciding his future, whether he likes it or not
  • The judge’s criticism of the “search for the ideal solution, leading to decent but imperfect solutions being rejected”- s1(5) “calls for a sensible decision, not the pursuit of perfection;
  • It is not necessary to take up “every conceivable legal or factual issue, rather than concentrating on the issues that really need to be resolved”.
  • The need for professional co-operation. Here the judge noted the role of the litigation friend in one of the cases: “This was epitomised in Case A, where the litigation friend’s submission focussed heavily on alleged shortcomings by the local authority, even to the extent that it was accompanied by a dense document entitled “Chronology of Faults”. But despite this, the author had no alternative solution to offer. The role of the litigation friend in representing P’s interests is not merely a passive one, discharged by critiquing other peoples’ efforts. Where he considers it in his client’s interest, he is entitled to research and present any realistic alternatives.“

 

 

 

The judge concluded:

 

  1. “The main responsibility for this situation and its solution must lie with the court, which has the power to control its proceedings. The purpose of this judgment is to express the view that the case management provisions in the Court of Protection Rules have proved inadequate on their own to secure the necessary changes in practice. While cases about children and cases about incapacitated adults have differences, their similarities are also obvious. There is a clear procedural analogy to be drawn between many welfare proceedings in the Court of Protection and proceedings under the Children Act. As a result of the Public Law Outline, robust case management, use of experts only where necessary, judicial continuity, and a statutory time-limit, the length of care cases has halved in two years. Yet Court of Protection proceedings can commonly start with no timetable at all for their conclusion, nor any early vision of what an acceptable outcome would look like. The young man in Case B is said to have a mental age of 8. What would we now say if it took five years – or 18 months – to decide the future of an 8-year-old?
  2. I therefore believe that the time has come to introduce the same disciplines in the Court of Protection as now apply in the Family Court. Accordingly, and at his request, I am sending a copy of this judgment to the President of the Court of Protection, Sir James Munby, for his consideration.”

 

 

The costs of non-compliance

 

The case of LB of Bexley v V, W and D [2014] EWHC 2187 (Fam) contains a stark reminder of the need to comply with court directions concerning the filing of evidence. The local authority in this case failed to file its evidence in accordance with deadlines which had already been extended, and despite the court stating that if any party was going to be unable to comply with the extended deadlines, it should apply to the judge’s clerk for an extension. It was said on the local authority’s behalf that no application was made as the local authority did not know when it would be able to produce its evidence. Unsurprisingly, the court was not impressed, but fortunately it was possible for amended directions to be given which enabled all parties to file their evidence without jeopardising the final hearing in the proceedings. The local authority was criticised and required to pay the costs of the hearing:

“I understand that social work professionals and lawyers, whether engaged by public authorities or in private practice, are under enormous great strain in the current circumstances and economic climate, particularly given changes to public funding, but that does not relieve them of the obligation to comply with orders made by the court. The failures by the London Borough of Bexley in this matter are stark. This hearing would not have been required if they had complied with their orders and, in my judgment, it was right that this matter was listed at the earliest opportunity to address those failings and to enable the other parties to make submissions as to when they could comply with their obligations to file documents. Accordingly, I am in no doubt that it is right that the local authority should be ordered to pay the costs of this hearing.” 

Similar approaches may well be taken by judges in the Court of Protection, particularly where failures to meet court deadlines delay the substantive determination of an application. And we would note the case of Re W (Children) [2014] EWFC 22 as a further example of the very robust approach that is being taken in family cases – in the context of much tighter rules in the FPR; we anticipate that it is only a matter of time before the COPR includes similar provisions and a similar approach is taken in CoP cases.

[A version of this note appeared in the August 2014 Thirty Nine Essex Street Mental Capacity Law Newsletter]

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