MoJ signals interest in specialist courts – the Round-up

Lady Justice above the Old Bailey in London

Photo credit: The Guardian

In the news

The Ministry of Justice has signalled an interest in the potential of specialist courts for cases of domestic abuse. It has been considering a report published last week by the Centre for Justice Innovation, which recommends an integrated approach whereby criminal, family and civil matters would be heard under a ‘one judge, one family’ model.

The report highlights evidence from the United States, Australia and New Zealand that integrated courts increase convictions and witness participation, lower re-offending, enforce protection orders more effectively and reduce case processing time. Victims would no longer find themselves “jumping from forum to forum” to resolve matters that are “all facets of the same underlying issue.”

Specialist domestic abuse courts could moreover use post-sentence judicial monitoring of perpetrators, and place a greater emphasis on the rehabilitation of offenders. In a speech to the Magistrates’ Association, justice secretary Michael Gove said he had been “impressed” by the potential of problem-solving courts during a recent visit to the US, and was “keen to look more” at what could be done in this area.

However, the proposals under examination are unlikely to allay fears that government cuts are putting women at risk. Under the ECHR, domestic authorities have a duty to “establish and apply effectively a system by which all forms of domestic violence [can] be punished,” and ensure “sufficient safeguards” are provided for the victims [Opuz v Turkey].

Yet current safeguards are under considerable strain, with domestic abuse incidents reported to the police having increased by 34% since 2007/2008. Campaigners warn that austerity measures, which have led to Portsmouth City Council recently announcing a “sizeable reduction” of £180,000 to its domestic abuse service, are likely to put further pressure on authorities already at breaking point.

Other news

  • Daily Telegraph: The Government has announced plans to establish an improved help-line for victims of modern slavery, which will be set up with a £1 million contribution from Google. The service will be modelled on a similar helpline in the US, which provides advice to people who have been subjected to forced labour or servitude, and collates data to combat human trafficking.
  • The Guardian: Health inspectors from the Care Quality Commission have issued a report critical of the wide variations of treatment received by people detained under the Mental Health Act. The inspectors found no evidence of patients’ views being considered in a quarter of the care plans examined, which Deputy Chief Inspector Dr Paul Lelliott said could “hinder their recovery, and lead to potential breaches in meeting their human rights.”
  • BBC: A High Court judge has ruled Lord Janner unfit to plead, with the result that the former politician will not stand trial over allegations of indecent assault and sexual abuse. Mr Justice Openshaw found that the 87-year-old peer had “advanced and disabling dementia that has deteriorated and is irreversible”. A “trial of the facts” is scheduled to take place next April.
  • Civic institutions, laws and practices need to better reflect the UK’s less religious, more diverse society, according to a report by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life. The Commission, led by former High Court judge, Baroness Butler-Sloss, has suggested that schools should no longer face a legal requirement to provide daily acts of worship of a Christian character, and has pointed to a number of “negative practical consequences” of selection by religion in faith schools. The Guardian reports.

 In the courts

The case concerned the complaints of seven Lithuanian nationals that the conditions of their detention in various correctional facilities had fallen short of standards compatible with article 3 of the Convention. In particular, it was submitted that they were held in overcrowded dormitory-type rooms. Some of the applicants further maintained that they were detained in conditions that violated basic hygiene requirements, and that they lacked access to appropriate sanitary facilities.

The Court found that the compensatory remedies made available by the Lithuanian authorities had been insufficient. It held that there had been a violation of article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect of four of the applicants, and made awards of pecuniary compensation accordingly.

This case concerned the asylum applications of two Afghan nationals who married in a religious ceremony in Iran when ZH had been 14-years old. The Swiss authorities did not deem the couple to be legally married, and considered their applications separately, resulting in the removal of RH to Italy after the rejection of his appeal. The applicants alleged that the expulsion of RH amounted to a breach of article 8 ECHR (the right to family life).

The Court held that article 8 of the Convention could not be interpreted as imposing on a member state an obligation to recognise a marriage contracted by a child, in view of article 12 (right to marry) which expressly provided for regulation of marriage by national law. At the time of the removal of RH to Italy, the Swiss authorities had been justified in considering that the applicants were not married. The Court therefore found no violation of article 8.

Events

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Consultation – backing no horses, and the importance of interim relief

_69067404_daycentreprotestLH, R (o.t.a) v. Shropshire Council  [2014] EWCA 404 (Civ), Court of Appeal, 4 April 2014  – read judgment

Good advertisement for the flexibility of the common law, this case. This is because the duty to consult owed by a public body extends into all reaches of public law, from the regulation of a metal trading company (see my recent post here) to care centres and residential homes. Indeed it was in the context of residential home closures that the modern law got worked out. In the 1992 case of  ex parte Baker there had been a draft community care plan which had made no reference to the closure of individual homes, and which was followed up by a bolt from the blue – residents of one home only had 5 days’ notice that their home was to close.  

In none of these cases is there a statutory duty to consult – it is an aspect of common law fairness. 

The LH case concerns the closure of an adult care day centre. The question in LH was how to apply the principles in Baker to a rather more nuanced consultation approach, where closure of day centres in general was raised in consultation, but the closure of the specific day centre (Hartleys) was not.

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How to be fair about transfer to Broadmoor

hospitalR (L) v West London Mental Health Trust; (2) Partnership in Care (3) Secretary of State for Health [2014] EWCA Civ 47 read judgment

Jeremy Hyam of 1 Crown Office Row was for the Trust. He was not involved in the writing of this post.

L, aged 26, was in a medium security hospital for his serious mental health problems. Concerns about his animus towards another patient arose, and the Admissions Panel of Broadmoor (a high security hospital) agreed to his transfer. It did so without allowing his solicitor to attend and without giving him the gist of why his transfer was to be made.

So far, so unfair, you might think, as a breach of the common law duty to come up with a fair procedure.

But the next bit is the difficult bit. How does a court fashion a fair procedure without it becoming like a mini-court case, which may be entirely unsuitable for the issue at hand? This is the tricky job facing the Court of Appeal. And I can strongly recommend Beatson LJ’s thoughtful grappling with the problem, and his rejection of the “elaborate, detailed and rather prescriptive list of twelve requirements” devised by the judge, Stadlen J.

Note, though L eventually lost, the CA considered that proceedings were justified because of their wider public interest. Something for Parliament to deliberate upon when it debates Grayling’s proposed reforms for judicial review: see my recent post.

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Supreme Court weighs in on patient’s best interests and the meaning of futility

Surgeons-007Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (Respondent) v James (Appellant) [2013] UKSC 67 – Read judgment / press summary

The Supreme Court has given judgment in the first case to come before it under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.  The sole judgment was given by Lady Hale (Deputy President of the Court), with whom Lord Neuberger, Lord Clarke, Lord Carnwath and Lord Hughes.

The case concerned best interests decisions in the case of a patient lacking capacity.  The patient, David James, had been admitted to hospital in May 2012 aged around 68 because of a problem with a stoma he had had fitted in 2001 during successful treatment for cancer of the colon. The problem was soon solved but he acquired an infection which was complicated by the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, an acute kidney injury and persistent low blood pressure.  He was admitted to the critical care unit and placed on a ventilator.

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You can’t be disabled when you’re dead – a footnote to R (Antoniou)

hospital

A somewhat curious additional point arises out of the case of R (Antoniou) – see my earlier post for the main issue – in which the court decided that Article 2 ECHR does not require an independent investigation into deaths in state detention prior to a coroner’s inquest. There was therefore no obligation to ensure that there was an independent investigation into the suicide, or death resulting from self-harm, of a mentally ill person detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983. There is such an investigation when a prisoner commits suicide. The Claimant thought this smacked of discrimination against the mentally disabled. The Court disagreed – on the somewhat surprising ground that you can’t be disabled once you’re dead.

Where a prisoner commits suicide, or dies as a result of self-harm, there will be an independent investigation from the outset. Any death in prison or in probation custody is automatically referred immediately to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for independent investigation. The Independent Police Complaints Commission performs a similar role for deaths in police, immigration or Customs & Excise detention. There is no equivalent independent investigator of deaths in mental health detention, which are investigated by the hospital where they occurred. The Claimant said this distinction discriminates between people who are mentally disabled and those of sound mind.

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Health protection “not a warrant for lifestyle fascism”

Cigarette_smokeCM, Re Judicial Review [2013] CSOH 143 – read judgment

The Scottish Court of Session has ruled that the prohibition of smoking and possession of tobacco products by patients at a mental hospital was unlawful. Whilst being careful to emphasise that this ruling did not spell out a specific right to smoke, the Court considered that the ban infringed the patients’ right to respect for home under Article 8.

The petitioner, a patient in a high security psychiatric hospital, sought judicial review of the policy adopted by the State Hospitals Board to ban smoking not just inside the hospital but also in the hospital grounds.  He claimed that the ban amounted to a breach of his right to respect for private life and home under Article 8, both as a stand‑alone claim and in combination with Article 14 (enjoyment of Convention rights without discrimination). He also argued that the ban constituted an unlawful and discriminatory infringement of his right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions under Article 1 Protocol 1.

The petitioner further based his position on compassionate grounds, pointing out that there are few diversions available in the State Hospital; that he derived pleasure from smoking; and that as an individual with relatively few liberties the removal of his ability to smoke had had a disproportionately large impact on him. Continue reading

Mental health detention powers must be reviewed urgently, says Parliamentary Committee – Lucy Series

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 09.57.43The House of Commons Health Committee has published a report (PDF) following its inquiries into the Mental Health Act 2007.  The MHA 2007 introduced several amendments to the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA, as amended), some of which were very controversial at the time and continue to be so now.  The Health Committee’s report follows post-legislative scrutiny of the legislation by its parent department

The Committee’s report was very focussed on the rights of mental health patients guaranteed by Article 5 ECHR and the MHA itself.  Those with an interest in mental health human rights will, however, notice that the radical challenge to detention and involuntary treatment under the MHA from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was absent from their discussion.

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