Following the case of AH, in which the Court of Appeal expressed the “pressing need” for guidance in relation to judicial visits, the Vice-President of the Court of Protection has issued guidance on 10 February about such visits. In it, he sets out principles to apply and practicalities required to give effect to those principles. He has also taken the opportunity to re-issue (and, indeed, to get onto Bailii) guidance previously issued by the former Vice-President in 2016, which covers a wider range issues relating to participation of P and vulnerable persons in the Court of Protection. The guidance can be found here.
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.
The Court of Protection will be giving the following instructions in relation to telephone hearings at First Avenue House, responding to uncertainties as to responsibilities and costs. They are to be read with the Guidance on Remote Hearings published by the Vice-President on 31 March 2020.
Please find below dial in details for the telephone hearing listed before judge xyz on date at time.
JOIN USING YOUR PHONE
- Choose the correct phone number to dial:
– Freephone 0800 917 1956
– United Kingdom Direct: 0203 463 9741
– International dial in +44203 463 9741
- At the phone prompt, provide the participant passcode: 5########## followed by #
The charge for the connection to your remote hearing is paid for by HMCTS. However, charges may be applied by your service provider and may vary depending on what contract you currently have with them. It is your responsibility to check whether you will be charged for this connection with your network provider
The participant passcode is for one time use only.
[Note, the reference to ‘charges’ in the passage in bold is a reference to the fact that, if the right number is not used, the call will not be free – on some networks, 0800 will be the Freephone number; on others the 0203 number].
In Re D (A young man)  EWCOP 1, Mostyn J had to consider a question that had previously been the subject of only very limited judicial consideration, namely the test for permission under s.50 MCA 2005. The case concerned a young man, D, aged 20, with autism. He had been looked after by his father and his stepmother, C, since the age of 3.
D’s mother, who was subject to a civil restraint order, applied for permission to make a substantive application concerning the nature and quantum of her contact with D. Mostyn J granted her leave under the terms of the civil restraint order to make the application for permission to make the application itself.
Under the terms of ss.50(1) and (2) MCA 2005, the mother needed permission to make a substantive application as she did not fall into one of the categories where permission is not required set out in section 50(1). Section 50(3) provides:
In deciding whether to grant permission the court must, in particular, have regard to –
(a) the applicant’s connection with the person to whom the application relates,
(b) the reasons for the application,
(c) the benefit to the person to whom the application relates of a proposed order or directions, and
(d) whether the benefit can be achieved in any other way.
Mostyn J noted that:
4. A permission requirement is a not uncommon feature of our legal procedure. For example, permission is needed to make an application for judicial review. Permission is needed to mount an appeal. Permission is needed to make a claim under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. In the field of judicial review, the permission requirement is not merely there to weed out applications which are abusive or nonsensical: to gain permission the claimant has to demonstrate a good arguable case. Permission to appeal will only be granted where the court is satisfied that the appellant has shown a real prospect of success or some other good reason why an appeal should be heard. Under Part III of the 1984 Act permission will only be granted if the applicant demonstrates solid grounds for making the substantive application: see Agbaje v Akinnoye-Agbaje  UKSC 13 at  per Lord Collins. This is said to set the threshold higher than the judicial review threshold of a good arguable case.
5. There is no authority under section 50 giving guidance as to what the threshold is in proceedings under the 2005 Act. In my judgment the appropriate threshold is the same as that applicable in the field of judicial review. The applicant must demonstrate that there is a good arguable case for her to be allowed to apply for review of the present contact arrangements.
The case had had a very lengthy and unhappy history, contact arrangements between D (at that stage a child) and his mother having been fixed some seven years previously. Having rehearsed the history, the possible scope of proceedings before the Court of Protection and (in his view) the irrelevance of the fact that D had turned 18, Mostyn J held that he applied:
13. […] the same standards to this application as I would if I were hearing an oral inter partes application for permission to seek judicial review. I cannot say that I am satisfied that the mother has shown a good arguable case that a substantive application would succeed if permission were granted. Fundamentally, I am not satisfied that circumstances have changed to any material extent since the contact regime was fixed seven years ago and confirmed by me two years ago. I cannot discern any material benefit that would accrue to D if this permission application were granted. On the contrary, I can see the potential for much stress and unhappiness not only for D but also for his family members if the application were to be allowed to proceed.
Mostyn J therefore refused the mother’s application for permission.
Being pedantic, Mostyn J was not correct to say that there was no authority on s.50. In 2010, Macur J had in NK v v VW  COPLR 105 had refused permission on the basis that she considered that “section 50(3) and the associated Rules require the Court to prevent not only the frivolous and abusive applications but those which have no realistic prospect of success or bear any sense of proportional response to the problem that is envisaged by NK in this case.” Fortunately, not least for procedural enthusiasts, that approach is consistent with the more detailed analysis now given by Mostyn J.
Accompanying the new Rules to come into effect on 1 December 2017 (assuming Parliamentary approval), a new suite of Practice Directions will also be brought into force. A table is set out below, and the PDs can all be found here.
For the most part, the substance of the Practice Directions is the same as that contained in the existing ones, although recast to reflect the renumbering in the Rules. Important points to note are:
1. Practice Direction 3B, consolidating into the practice of the Court the case management pilot approach to case pathways
2. Practice Direction 4C, consolidating the transparency pilot into the practice of the Court
3. Practice Direction 17C, consolidating the s.17 pilot approach
4. Practice Direction 24C, providing for transition arrangements in the following terms
Applications received after commencement
2. If an application under the Previous Rules or the pilot Practice Directions is received at the court on or after commencement [i.e. 1 December], it will be returned.
3. However, an application made under the Rules using the version of the relevant form which was current immediately before commencement will be accepted until close of business on 12 January 2018, or such later date as the Senior Judge may direct.
Applications received before commencement
4. The general presumption will be that any step in proceedings which were started (in accordance with rule 62 of the Previous Rules) before commencement which is to be taken on or after commencement is to be taken under the Rules.
(Rule 62 of the Previous Rules provides that proceedings are started when the court issues an application form at the request of the applicant.)
5. However, the general presumption is subject to any directions given by the court, which may at any time direct how the Rules are to apply to the proceedings.
6. Any step already taken in the proceedings before commencement in accordance with the Previous Rules or the pilot Practice Directions will remain valid on or after commencement.
Orders made before commencement
7. Where a court order has been made before commencement under the Previous Rules or the pilot Practice Directions, the order must still be complied with on or after commencement.
Finally, it should be noted that Practice Direction 9E, concerning serious medical treatment, is not carried over into these new provisions, so that it will fall away on 1 December 2017. At time of writing no replacement has been proposed.
|Practice Direction 1A – Participation of P|
|Practice Direction 2A – Levels of judiciary|
|Practice Direction 2B – Authorised court officers|
|Practice Direction 2C – Application of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 and the Family Procedure Rules 2010|
|Practice Direction 3A – Court’s jurisdiction to be exercised by certain judges|
|Practice Direction 3B – Case pathways|
|Practice Direction 4A – Hearings (including reporting restrictions)|
|Practice Direction 4B – Court bundles|
|Practice Direction 4C – Transparency|
|Practice Direction 5A – Court documents|
|Practice Direction 5B – Statements of truth|
|Practice Direction 6A – Service of documents|
|Practice Direction 6B – Service out of the jurisdiction|
|Practice Direction 7A – Notifying P|
|Practice Direction 8A – Permission|
|Practice Direction 9A – The application form|
|Practice Direction 9B – Notification of other persons that an application form has been issued|
|Practice Direction 9C – Responding to an application|
|Practice Direction 9D – Applications by currently appointed deputies, attorneys and donees in relation to P’s property and affairs|
|Practice Direction 9E – Applications relating to statutory wills, codicils, settlements and other dealings with P’s property|
|Practice Direction 9F – Applications to appoint or discharge a trustee|
|Practice Direction 9G – Applications relating to the registration of enduring powers of attorney|
|Practice Direction 10A – Applications within proceedings|
|Practice Direction 10B – Urgent and interim applications|
|Practice Direction 11A – Deprivation of liberty applications|
|Practice Direction 12A – Human Rights Act 1998|
|Practice Direction 13A – Procedure for disputing the court’s jurisdiction|
|Practice Direction 14A – Written evidence|
|Practice Direction 14B – Depositions|
|Practice Direction 14C – Fees for examiners of the court|
|Practice Direction 14D – Witness summons|
|Practice Direction 14E – Section 49 reports|
|Practice Direction 15A – Expert evidence|
|Practice Direction 17A – Litigation friend|
|Practice Direction 17B – Rule 1.2 representatives|
|Practice Direction 18A – Change of solicitor|
|Practice Direction 19A – Costs|
|Practice Direction 19B – Fixed costs in the Court of Protection|
|Practice Direction 20A – Appeals|
|Practice Direction 20B – Allocation of appeals|
|Practice Direction 21A – Contempt of court|
|Practice Direction 22A – Civil restraint orders|
|Practice Direction 23A – International protection of adults|
|Practice Direction 24A – Request for directions where notice of objection prevents Public Guardian from registering enduring power of attorney|
|Practice Direction 24B – Where P ceases to lack capacity or dies|
|Practice Direction 24C – Transitional provisions|
The Court of Protection Rules 2017 have been laid before Parliament, to come into force on 1 December. These recast all of the Rules into the same format as the Civil Procedure and Family Procedure Rules. The new-look Court of Protection Rules will also incorporate those rules relating to case management which have, since September 2016, been implemented by way of the Case Management Pilot. Accompanying – renumbered – Practice Directions (not yet published) will also cement into the practice of the Court the Transparency Pilot and the Section 49 Report Pilot.
LAG will shortly be publishing a revised second edition of the CoP Handbook and supplement with the new Rules and an introductory text outlining key changes since the publication of the second edition.
In a step which will gladden the heart of all those who have had to include “This order takes effect notwithstanding the fact that it is not yet sealed” in their orders from the Court of Protection, the Court of Protection will, from 21 July, be endorsing all non-financial orders with an electronic seal. For more details, see the letter from HMCTS here.
In N v ACCG  UKSC 22, the Supreme Court has now pronounced definitively upon what the Court of Protection should do where is a dispute between the providers or funders of health or social services for a person lacking the capacity to make the decision for himself as to what services should be provided to him either between the person’s family or, by analogy, by those acting on behalf of the person.
The appeal arose from the decision taken in 2013 in relation to a young man, MN, with profound disabilities who lacked capacity to make decisions about his care. He was made the subject of a care order when he was 8 years old and placed in residential accommodation. On turning 18, he was moved to an adult residential placement and the clinical commissioning group took over funding for his placement, the local authority remaining involved in the proceedings. MN’s parents accepted that he should live at the placement for the time being, but wished to assist in providing intimate care to MN at the placement, and to have contact with MN at their home. The CCG did not agree that intimate care should be provided, and was not willing to provide the necessary funding for additional carers to facilitate home contact. At first instance, MN’s parents contended that the court should nevertheless determine MN’s best interests in respect of both matters. The local authority and the CCG submitted that the court was only able to choose between available options.
At first instance, Eleanor King J held that the court should not embark upon a best interests analysis of hypothetical possibilities in relation to home contact and that it would be only in exceptional cases that an argument founded on the Human Rights Act 1998 would require the court to consider options that were not available. Both parents appealed to the Court of Appeal, which upheld Eleanor King’s judgment. Mr N appealed to the Supreme Court, and was supported in his appeal by Mrs N. The CCG and the Official Solicitor, on behalf of MN, sought to uphold the decision of the Court of Appeal.
Lady Hale, giving the sole judgment of the Supreme Court, considered that the true issue was not the jurisdiction of the Court of Protection (as it had been put by both Eleanor King J and Sir James Munby P in the Court of Appeal), but rather the approach it should take in light of its limited powers.
The proper approach to the determination of the issue
As she had done in Aintree v James, Lady Hale took matters back to first principles, by reference to the legislative history of the MCA (and, indeed, its pre-history, including – in essence – a potted narrative of the development of the doctrine of necessity and its ultimate codification). She is, of course, uniquely placed to do so, given her role at the Law Commission in the 1990s in the formulation of what ultimately became the MCA 2005. For present purposes, the most important points to be drawn from that history are the following:
1. The jurisdiction of the Court of Protection is limited to decisions that a person is unable to take for himself. There is no such thing as a care order for adults and the jurisdiction is not to be equated with the jurisdiction of family courts under the Children Act 1989 or the wardship jurisdiction of the High Court (para 24). By reference to the wording of s.16 MCA 2005, unlike the Children Act 1989 the MCA 2005 does not contemplate the grant of “the full gamut of decision-making power, let alone parental responsibility, over an adult who lacks capacity” (para 27);
2. Lady Hale’s ‘respectful’ agreement (at para 26) with the observations of Sir James Munby P in the Court of Appeal that, unless the desired order clearly falls within the ambit of s.15 (i.e. a declaration as to capacity and/or lawfulness, which may have a narrower ambit than can be made in the High Court), orders are better framed in terms of relief under s.16 MCA 2005. As she noted, an order under s.16(2)(a) simply makes the decision on behalf of the person, with no need to declare that the decision made is in P’s best interests;
3. The fact that s.17 MCA 2005 – giving examples of the powers under s.16 as respects P’s personal welfare – did not extend to such matters as deciding that a named care home must accommodate P or that a person providing healthcare must provide a particular treatment for P was consistent with (1) the original Law Commission report in 1995, which provided that the role of the court it envisaged was to stand in the shoes of the person concerned, but that, if that person had no power under the community care legislation to demand the provision of particular services, then neither could the court on their behalf; (2) the approach then adopted in the Government’s White Paper preceding the then-Mental Incapacity Bill; and (3) the approach laid down by the Supreme Court itself in Aintree v James (paras 29-32); and
4. Courts and people taking decisions on behalf of those who lack capacity to do so have to do so in their best interests, and, following s.4 MCA 2005, a conclusion as to what is in a person’s best interests “is a decision about what would be best for this particular individual, taking into account, so far as practicable, his individual characteristics, likes and dislikes, values and approach to life” (para 34).
How, then, should the court reconcile its duty to decide what is in the best interests of the person with the fact that it only had the power to take a decision that P himself could have taken? As Lady Hale made clear (para 35) this meant that it had to choose between the available options, and its powers were (in this respect) similar to the family court’s powers in relation to children, as the House of Lords had previously explained in Holmes-Moorhouse v Richmond upon Thames Borough Council  UKHL 7. As Lady Hale outlined (at para 37), service-providing powers and duties – including those under the Care Act 2014 (not relevant in MN’s case, but relevant in many others) – have their own principles and criteria which do not depend upon what is best for the service user, although such would no doubt be a relevant consideration. She noted, in particular, that whilst decisions on health or social care services may engage the right to respect for private (or family) life under Article 8 ECHR, decisions about the allocation of limited resources may well be justified as necessary in the interests of the economic well-being.
In light of the analysis above, and the limited powers of the court, Lady Hale noted (at para 39) that where a case is brought to court:
“What may often follow such an application will be a process of independent investigation, as also happened in this case, coupled with negotiation and sometimes mediation, in which modifications are made to the care plan and areas of dispute are narrowed, again as happened in this case. But it does not follow that the court is obliged to hold a hearing to resolve every dispute where it will serve no useful purpose to do so.”
Lady Hale outlined the extensive case management powers of the Court of Protection, noting (at para 41) that the court was therefore clearly entitled to take the view that no useful purpose would be served by holding a hearing to resolve a particular issue. She continued:
“In reaching such a decision, many factors might be relevant. In a case such as this, for example: the nature of the issues; their importance for MN; the cogency of the parents’ demands; the reasons why the CCG opposed those demands and their cogency; any relevant and indisputable fact in the history; the views of MN’s litigation friend; the consequence of further investigation in terms of costs and court time; the likelihood that it might bring about further modifications to the care plan or consensus between the parties; and generally whether further investigation would serve any useful purpose.”
Lady Hale concluded that, on the facts of the case before Eleanor King J, consideration upon the lines set out immediately above would have led to the conclusion that it was unlikely that investigation would bring about further modifications or consensus and that it would have been disproportionate to devote any more of the court’s scarce resources to resolve matters. As she put it at para 44, this was “a case in which the court did not have power to order the CCG to fund what the parents wanted. Nor did it have power to order the actual care providers to do that which they were unwilling or unable to do. In those circumstances, the court was entitled to conclude that, in the exercise of its case management powers, no useful purpose would be served by continuing the hearing.” Lady Hale accepted that Eleanor King J had not put matters in quite those terms, but that was the substance of what she was doing and she was entitled in the circumstances to do so, such that the appeal fell to be dismissed.
It is important to note, however, that, as Lady Hale emphasised at para 43:
“Case management along these lines does not mean that a care provider or funder can pre-empt the court’s proceedings by refusing to contemplate changes to the care plan. The court can always ask itself what useful purpose continuing the proceedings, or taking a particular step in them, will serve but that is for the court, not the parties, to decide.”
This decision put beyond doubt the limits of both the Court of Protection and, more broadly, what can be done in the name of best interests. As Lady Hale has made so starkly clear, a decision as to what is in the person’s best interests is a choice between available options. This means in practice, and all too, often a constrained choice where a person is wholly or partially reliant upon public funding to meet their care needs. However, Lady Hale made clear that the approach that she was setting out was one that had always been intended from the very earliest work of the Law Commission.
Many people may regret this decision as the “hollowing out” of the concept of best interests, as Beverley Clough memorably put it in a post prior to the hearing. Further, some may contend that the result is inconsistent with the CRPD, which had a cameo role in the hearing. However, for our part, we would suggest that our energies should be devoted more to ensuring that those mechanisms which exist to facilitate the involvement of those with impaired capacity in service provision decisions made for them under the relevant legislation (for instance advocacy under the Care Act) are made meaningful. This is an area where real supports are required for the exercise of legal capacity under Article 12 CRPD (and also to make real the right to independent living under Article 19).
As regards the role of the Court of Protection, it is now clear beyond peradventure that the court should be in the driving seat as regards the management of cases that come before it, and we hope also that this judgment fortifies the court in taking the robust case management steps set down in the Case Management Pilot. We will certainly not be changing our advice that any person, and in particular any public body, appearing before the court can expect to have their decision-making probed robustly, especially where the consequences of those decisions are such as to remove from the table options which it is clear P would wish to be able to choose.
The Supreme Court did not comment upon whether the Court of Protection is able to hear claims brought under s.7 Human Rights Act 1998; both Eleanor King J and the Court of Appeal had held that, exceptionally, the court is able to consider a claim that a public body is acting unlawfully in the steps that it is taking towards P by reference to the ECHR, and we suggest that the Supreme Court’s silence on this point should be taken as endorsement of this position. We note that this is different to the question of whether the Court of Protection should be able to make declarations and/or damages to reflect a public body’s past actions breach the ECHR – there is no doubt that the court has the jurisdiction to do this, but, as is becoming increasingly clear the approach of the LAA, in particular, would seem to suggest that the much better course of action will normally be to bring separate proceedings in the county or High Courts.
We note, finally, Lady Hale’s observations at para 38 as to the limits of s.5 MCA 2005. It is no little interest in light of the rumbling issue Alex has discussed elsewhere as to when judicial sanction is required before steps can be taken by public authorities that Lady Hale clearly takes an expansive view of s.5.
“Section 5 of the 2005 Act gives a general authority, to act in relation to the care or treatment of P, to those caring for him who reasonably believe both that P lacks capacity in relation to the matter and that it will be in P’s best interests for the act to be done. This will usually suffice, unless the decision is so serious that the court itself has said it must be taken to court. But if there is a dispute (or if what is to be done amounts to a deprivation of liberty for which there is no authorisation under the deprivation of liberty safeguards in the 2005 Act) then it may be necessary to bring the case to court, as the authorities did in this case.”
If the Law Commission recommendations are taken forward, then this “general authority” (a phrase which harks very much back to the wording of the original 1995 report) would be significantly constrained in any case involving significant interference with the Article 8 rights of the individual. For our part, though, we consider that the issues at the heart of MN’s case would always require resolution by the court – albeit we would sincerely hope at very much greater speed.
This post was written by Alex Ruck Keene, Sophy Miles and Neil Allen, respectively junior counsel for the Official Solicitor, Mrs N and Mr N before the Supreme Court.
Charles J has recently issued guidance on facilitating participation of ‘P’ and vulnerable persons. It is intended to allow sharing of good practice in the creative development of ways in which P can in fact be put at the heart of proceedings, and draws upon the important work done by the Advocates Gateway and also Nicola Mackintosh QC. Importantly, perhaps, it shows that there are many steps which can be which do not necessarily require the expenditure of money; instead they require thinking outside the conventional framework within which P is expected to bend to the will of the court.
[We publish here by way of a guest post a case study written by Nicola Mackintosh QC (Hon) as to the facilitation of P in Court of Protection proceedings. The case study will form part of the second edition of the Court of Protection Handbook, coming soon. Nicola acted as P’s solicitor, instructed by the Official Solicitor as his litigation friend, in A County Council v (1) AB (2) JB (3) SB  EWCOP 41, the case in which the measures set out below were explored].
In the body of [this book], we set out some of the ways in which practice needs to change within the Court of Protection to ensure that the court and representation process is looked at through P’s eyes, rather than just adding P as an afterthought. Whilst the COPR and accompanying Practice Directions may well need to be amended in due course to secure this goal, creative steps are already possible within the framework of the COPR as they stand. As a case study, we set out here those which were implemented to facilitate P’s participation in a fact-finding hearing listed to determine allegations of abuse at the hands of his parents.
P had expressed a wish to attend Court to come to the fact finding hearing to listen to what his parents and other witnesses were saying, as well as to ‘tell his story’ to the court. This was opposed by both his parents and the local authority, but the court ruled that he should attend. The court also ruled that, whilst P was “almost certainly not competent to give evidence [this is] is no reason not to seek with appropriate help to elicit ‘information’ from him via a skilled intermediary….using Rule 95 (e) the Court may admit the information but there is no guarantee that it would accept or act upon it….. the Court’s ability to have information provided by P is wide and flexible…”
In the light of the judgment the practical arrangements which had already been made were implemented. These steps show clearly how vital it is when securing and enhancing P’s participation that each and every detail of the arrangements is planned from P’s perspective and not simply limited to a meeting with the judge (important as that is). This involved the following:
- P’s lawyers meeting with P and securing appropriate Speech and Language Therapy support to prepare for the hearing by exploring concepts such as the following:(b) ‘what is a judge, what will the judge be deciding, why is it important to you’?(d) ‘how can I tell my story’?
- (c) ‘what will happen at the hearing, who will speak when, how long will it take etc.’?
- (a)‘what is happening in court, what is a case, why is your case in court, what is the case about’?
- Considering which court location would best meet the needs of the case, taking into account all physical facilities, travel time for P and others etc.
- As the court’s video facilities did not allow for P to be in an adjacent room viewing the proceedings from a distance so as to minimise distress, an alternative facility was found nearby which could provide a video link to the court. Arrangements were made for this between the IT specialists of the court and the other facility, and for the video link to be tested in advance to ensure it was working. In the event this facility was not used as P remained in court throughout the proceedings.
- (With consent) taking photographs of the judge, the courtroom and all the lawyers involved in the proceedings to explain to P the physical location and the identity of all involved in advance of the hearing.
- Before the hearing arranging a visit by P to the courtroom when the court was not sitting to see the layout, and also to meet the court clerk who was to be allocated to the hearing days.
- Deciding where it was best for P to sit in his wheelchair in the courtroom to listen to the proceedings, taking into account the position of other parties and ‘lines of sight’ with others.
- Arranging for P to be supported by staff regarding personal care, and ensuring mobile hoists were provided for P in both locations for care.
- Ensuring that there was enough physical space in the court complex so that P had a separate room just next to the courtroom, with a fan (P being a wheelchair user had reduced temperature control).
The first day of the hearing was listed as a Ground Rules Hearing, as provided for in the Advocates’ Gateway. On the first day, as planned, the judge met with P in a side room next to the courtroom. P’s solicitor was present, and P’s SALT also assisted by explaining to the judge that P was able to respond ‘yes, no, happy and sad’ through different Makaton signs. P showed the judge how he communicated each of these expressions, enabling the judge better to understand how to interpret P’s wishes and reactions.
Although the fact finding hearing was listed for 9 days, after the initial part of the first day of the hearing (P being present in court with his carers and intermediary) the parties set out their updated positions which then resulted in negotiations to see if a settlement could be reached without the need for the fact finding process. This lasted the first day and the terms of an order were agreed on the second day of the hearing. P was present during all discussions between lawyers and the court, and communicated his wish to continue to be involved and to listen to the proceedings. Between updates to the court he was permitted by the judge to remain in the courtroom with his support workers, watching a DVD. This reduced the need for him to be taken in and out of the courtroom, waiting for long periods in a small stuffy side room, and was invaluable. This could not have been arranged without the court’s co-operation and flexibility of the court staff.
Once agreement had been reached in principle between the parties as to the core issues in the case, it was considered vital for P’s wish to ‘tell his story’ to be facilitated. A very careful consideration of the issues raised, and the broad themes set out in the fact finding schedule was undertaken. Questions of P were drafted by P’s legal representatives with the assistance of P’s SALT and intermediary. As P’s communication was limited to responses such as ‘yes, no’ etc, it was necessary for leading questions to be posed however these were broken down into questions so that the leading element was minimised. Examples of questions included ‘Do you want to talk about when you were living at home?’, ‘How did you feel when you were living at home?’, When you were living at home did anyone do X to you?’, and if the answer was affirmative, ‘How did it make you feel?’ These questions were devised to ensure that P’s broad wishes were communicated to the court notwithstanding the agreement between the parties, so that P felt that he had been listened to by the parties and the judge, but avoiding detailed questioning on the fact finding schedule which eventually proved to be unnecessary.
The question and answer sessions were broken down into more than one session to allow P to rest and refocus. With agreement they were filmed on a mobile phone and then played to the judge in his chambers. They were then also played to the other parties. This flexibility avoided all the delays and organisational problems associated with using the court video facilities.
By the end of the second day, agreement had been reached in the form of a detailed order. The judge held a further short hearing and again explained the outcome to P, coming into the courtroom and sitting by P to confirm what was going to happen. P was repositioned in his wheelchair to be solely in the line of sight of the judge and not the other parties.
Although this case required considerable practical arrangements to be made, forward planning was vital in ensuring that all elements of P’s participation was effective in meeting the goal of P’s enhanced involvement in the proceedings. Each case will be as different as each P is different. The more that proceedings in the Court of Protection are attended by P, or P’s participation is secured by other creative means, the more the judiciary, Court staff, lawyers and all the parties will become accustomed to putting P at the centre of the process, and making appropriate arrangements. This is the beginning of a new era in the Court of Protection. This is only right given the role of the Court in making decisions which are of such fundamental importance to P’s life.