Caring about P in the Court of Protection: the Re X scenario

by Jaime Lindsey, PhD Candidate and Teaching Associate at the University of Birmingham ( j.t.lindsey@bham.ac.uk)

In the recent Court of Appeal case, Re X [1], the judges’ obiter comments were certainly timely. The case concerned Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS) cases under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA). The case itself turned on the question of whether P (the subject of the court proceedings) had to be a party to the proceedings in which they would potentially be deprived of their liberty. Whilst the Court of Appeal held that they did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal, they made their feelings clear that P should always be a party to DOLS proceedings.[2]

Under the MCA, individuals can, in certain circumstances, be deprived of their liberty in a care home or hospital for the purpose of being given care or treatment.[3] Further, a person who may be deprived of their liberty outside of a hospital or care home, but still with sufficient degree of State involvement, would also require Court authorisation for the deprivation of liberty.[4] Many of us would expect that depriving a person of something so fundamental as their liberty should, at the very least, require them to have some input into the discussion. In fact, the ECtHR jurisprudence requires that a person who is to be deprived of their liberty should have access to a court and the opportunity to be heard.[5] This is not only important on an academic level; if a person who does not wish to be deprived of their liberty forcefully resists it, then the measures which need to be taken against them are surely an important factor for any court to consider before making an authorisation.

Yet this should not only be the case for removing somebody’s liberty. In my view, a more compassionate and inclusive approach should apply more broadly to the Court of Protection’s entire jurisdiction. In fact, new Court of Protection rules require the court to, at the very least, consider whether P should be required to participate in the proceedings and this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Involving P in the capacity question

As of 1st July 2015, the new Court of Protection (Amendment) Rules 2015 came into force. They require, amongst other things, that the Court considers whether it should make one of a number of directions relating to P’s participation in the proceedings (new Rule 3A Court of Protection Rules 2007). The possible directions it can make include: (1) joining P as a party (2) appointing a legal (or otherwise) representative for P (3) requiring P to address the judge (4) any alternative direction meeting the overriding objective. Whilst these rules certainly could have gone further, they show the Court’s increasing awareness of the greater need for P’s involvement.

Rule 3A is certainly an important step forward. It should ensure that judges and the parties are alive to the question of P’s involvement. Actually, involving P should be seen as a positive way to assist the Court in deciding whether he or she has capacity; a large part of the Court’s jurisdiction in health and welfare cases is about determining whether or not a person has the capacity to make a decision in the first place and this should not be forgotten. Clearly there will be cases where the capacity question is clear from the outset, for example consider the brain damaged adult on life support, but many more cases will be borderline and sometimes will involve adults who have no mental or learning disability at all.[6] Either way, to the extent that it is possible to do so and for capacity determinations at least, P should always be involved with proceedings.

A more inclusive approach?

The new rules should certainly go some way in achieving a more inclusive approach to decision making in the Court of Protection and are to be welcomed. However, the extent to which, and in what way, the options open to the Court will be used will need to be examined following implementation. A major factor in the increased involvement of P in proceedings will be the lawyers, social workers and carers who are involved in the case; if they see the benefit of involving P and argue in favour of this in court then is a judge really likely to refuse? Particularly in light of the obiter comments of the Court of Appeal in Re X, albeit that was in a slightly different context. In fact, the onus is not only on the judge in the case to consider this but it is also on the parties who can make an application to request such a direction. Those who know and work with P, and the lawyers on all sides, should be encouraged and feel empowered by recent developments to request P’s involvement.

The power of the Court of Protection in affecting the lives of individuals who fall under the MCA regime, both for the positive and negative, is enormous. In some ways, whether or not the outcome of the cases is any different as a result of the involvement of P is not the measure of success; what is vital is that people feel that their voice is heard, particularly in relation to decisions affecting their own lives. This empowers people to “buy in” to the ultimate decision that might be made on their behalf. That said, involving P in the decision making process will hopefully lead to better and more context sensitive decisions being made and the new rule 3A is a first step in achieving this.

[1] Re X [2015] EWCA Civ 599

[2]Ibid per Black LJ at para 108

[3] Pt1 s.1(2) MCA

[4]Under s.16(2)(a) MCA

[5]Winterwerp v The Netherlands [1979] 2 EHRR 387

[6] See for example IM v LM and AB [2014] EWCA Civ 37

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