A Local Authority v H  EWHC 49 (COP) – Read judgment
The Court of Protection has ruled that an autistic woman with an IQ of 64 does not have the mental capacity to engage in sexual relations, on the basis that she does not understand the implications and cannot effectively deploy the information she has understood into her decisions.
H is a 29 year old woman with mild learning difficulties and atypical autism. Although there is potential for improvement in her conditions, they are life-long.
She had a history of a very early and very deep degree of sexualisation. H engaged in sexual behaviour with others which she did not always consent to, one man having been convicted in 2003 of her attempted rape, and when she did consent the behaviour was still unconventional and exploitative. She had been on the child protection register and had extensive entries in her adult records with the local authority. In short, she is highly sexualised and vulnerable.
This is the second of two blogs on the recent Supreme Court case of Rabone and another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust  UKSC 2 . Part 1 is here.
In my previous blog on the Supreme Court’s judgment in Rabone I discussed the central feature of the case, the extension of the operational duty on the state to protect specific individuals from threats to their life, including suicide. Here, I consider the other elements of the case that Melanie Rabone’s parents had to establish in order to succeed in their claim for damages under the Human Rights Act 1998 (“HRA”).
Existence of the operational duty in Melanie’s case
Having established that the operational duty could be applied in Melanie’s case, her parents then had to establish, on the facts, that it was – by showing that there was a “real and immediate” threat to her life from which she should have been protected. Ever since the notion of an operational duty was first enunciated in Osman v United Kingdom (2000) 29 EHRR 245, it has become something of a judicial mantra that the threshold for establishing a “real and immediate” threat was high (see for example Re Officer L  UKHL 36, and Savage v South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust  AC 681  and ,). There are good reasons for not imposing the operational duty lightly, given the enormous pressures and complexities involved in running police, prison and mental health services for the community as a whole. However, an overly-stringent test risked making the operational duty an obligation that was more hypothetical than real.
Rabone and another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust  UKSC 2 – Read judgment (On appeal from  EWCA Civ 698 and  EWHC 1827 )
At first sight, Article 2 – the ‘right to life’ – seems to be a prohibition on extra-judicial executions and state-sponsored death squads. It does, of course have a role to play in that respect (and one that is not limited to those countries whose signature of the Convention is viewed with scepticism from Western Europe).
But through a combination of logic, inventive legal argument and what can either be characterised as the incremental development of a new area of law, or the expansionist tendencies of Strasbourg judges, the scope of Article 2 has broadened significantly, and can be cited in cases concerning prison administration and coronial procedural law.
In Rabone, the Supreme Court extended the obligations that the Article places on the state and its servants still further, beyond even the existing decisions from Strasbourg. They held that – in the specific circumstances of this tragic case – an NHS Trust had violated the positive duty that it had, under Article 2, to protect a voluntary patient from the risk of suicide.
This post originally displayed an image of a sign at Stepping Hill Hospital, including reference to Stockport NHS Foundation Trust. The case did not involve Stockport NHSFT so I have removed the image: my apologies for any confusion caused. In the absence of any interesting images of Pennine Care NHS Trust, who were the Respondent, I have replaced this with an image of the snowy Pennines.
Rabone and another (Appellants) v Pennine Care NHS Trust (Respondent)  UKSC 2 – Read judgment / press summary
The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that a mental health hospital had an “operational” obligation under article 2 of the European Court of Human Rights (the right to life) to protect a voluntary patient from suicide. This is the first time the reach of the article 2 obligation to protect life has been expanded to a voluntary patient; that is, a patient who was not detained under the Mental Health Act.
My initial thoughts are that this is potentially very important, and follows on from Savage in gradually expanding the reach of Article 2, and therefore the liability of mental health hospitals to patients and (as was crucial in this case) their families. The court observed that Ms. Rabone, who committed suicide after being granted 2-days of home leave by the hospital, could have been detained under the MHA in any event, so the distinction between a voluntary and detained patient was of form rather than substance.
Nonetheless, the decision appears to endorse an “each case on its own facts” approach, and will affect human rights damages claims and arguably so-called article 2 inquests too. Here is a particularly quotable line from Lady Hale at paragraph :
“There is no warrant, in the jurisprudence or in humanity, for the distinction between the two duties drawn by Lord Scott in Savage…”
Debby Purdy and husband
The Commission on Assisted Dying, set up in September 2010 and chaired by former Lord Chancellor Charles Falconer, has issued its monumental report on assisted dying in England and Wales.
The Commission was funded by two supporters of assisted suicide, author Terry Pratchett and businessman Bernard Lewis, and despite reassurances that the running and outcome of the Commission were independent, some individuals and groups opposed to the practice regrettably refused to give evidence to the Commission. Still, the range and quantity of the evidence, which included evidence gathered from international research visits, qualitative interviews and focus groups, commissioned papers, and seminars, is impressive and can be read and watched here.
Modaresi v. Secretary of State for Health & others  EWCA Civ 1359, Court of Appeal
Any lawyer dealing with civil or criminal cases tends to think that, if there is a time limit for doing something in the case, then if that thing does not get done on time, the court may be lenient if there is good reason for extending time. The problem comes where the court is only given power to hear an appeal by a specific set of rules, and the rules say, for instance: you must appeal within 14 days of the decision. In the statutory context, that may mean precisely what it says. And the court, however sympathetically inclined, cannot do otherwise and allow a late appeal.
We see this from this mental health case. Ms Modaresi, who suffers from schizophrenia, was admitted to hospital on 20 December 2010 for assessment under section 2 of the Mental Health Act. Section 66 of the Act provides that where a patient is admitted to hospital in this way, “an application may be made to [the tribunal] within the relevant period” by the patient, and “the relevant period” means “14 days beginning with the day on which the patient is admitted”.
Chester West and Chester Council v. P (by his Litigation Friend the Official Solicitor)  EWCA Civ 1257 – Read judgment / Lucy Series’ commentary
When assessing whether a patient’s care deprives him or her of their liberty, and thereby entitles them to the procedural protections under Article 5 (4) ECHR, the right to liberty, the Court of Appeal has ruled that the appropriate comparator is an individual with the same disabilities and difficulties who is not in care. The court also provided useful general guidance for deprivation of liberty cases.
P is a 39 year old man with Cerebral Palsy and Down’s Syndrome who lacks the capacity to make decisions about his care and residence arrangements as a result of his physical and learning disabilities.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published Hidden in plain sight, a report into disability-related harassment and how well this is currently being addressed by public authorities.
The report, which finds a “systemic failure by public authorities to recognise the extent and impact of harassment and abuse of disabled people” can be downloaded here, the “easy read” version here and the executive summary here. I have also reposted the Executive Summary via Scribd below. The Inquiry found, amongst other things:
G v E & Ors  EWCA Civ 939 – Read judgment – 1COR’s Guy Mansfield QC appeared for the Respondent. He is not the author of this post.
Bahta & Ors, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Ors  EWCA Civ 895 – Read judgment
The general rule in civil law cases is that the loser pays the winner’s legal costs, even if the case settles before trial. As with all general rules, there are plenty of exceptions, and many relate to public authorities. Two of those exceptions have just been chipped away at by the Court of Appeal.
Two important judgments increasing the likelihood that local authorities will have to pay out costs emerged the usual last-minute glut before the court term ended on Friday. The first concerned costs in the Court of Protection when an authority has unlawfully deprived a person of their liberty. The second was about costs in immigration judicial review claims which had settled following consent orders.
Neary and his father
London Borough of Hillingdon v. Steven Neary  EWHC 1377 (COP) – read judgment here.
The Court of Protection (“COP”) emphatically ruled last week that a local authority unlawfully detained a young man with autism and learning difficulties for almost an entire year, breaching his right to respect for family life as a result.
Take a 21-year-old disabled person, the Mental Capacity Act 2005, a devoted father and an adversarial social care department. Mix in centuries-old principles laid down in Magna Carta, recent case-law on Article 5 and Article 8 of the ECHR, and some tireless campaigning by legal bloggers. The result? A landmark decision on the use of deprivation of liberty (“DOL”) authorisations in respect of individuals without full legal and mental capacity.
I watched Panorama’s exposé of institutional abuse of adults with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View Hospital with mounting horror. What legal mechanisms were available to prevent abuses like this, or bring justice to victims?
There can be little doubt that the acts of the carers towards the patients were inhuman and degrading, a violation of their Article 3 rights. It is highly questionable whether the establishment fulfilled their rights to privacy and dignity under Article 8, the right to private and family life.
There probably aren’t many people who want to know what ‘goes on’ in the Court of Protection more than me; it’s what I spend much of my time trying to fathom. An outsider would be forgiven for thinking that this branch of Her Majesty’s Court Service doesn’t feel that case law in this tangled and difficult area is anybody’s business but it’s own.
The reasons for this appearance are complex though, and not necessarily the fault of any individuals working within the courts. I think it’s important to draw a distinction between different ways that greater ‘transparency’ could be achieved; some might be more helpful than others.
P and Q by the Official Solicitor, their Litigation Friend v Surrey County Council and Others (Equality and Human Rights Commission, Intervener)  EWCA Civ 190- read judgment
What does it mean to be “deprived of liberty”? This is not an easy question, and there are a wide variety of relevant factors. For instance, the amount of space a person is free to roam in, the degree of supervision and the amount of time away from their main residence are matters which are likely to vary greatly from case to case. There are many borderline cases.
In an important recent case, the Court of Appeal has found that there was no deprivation of liberty, within the meaning of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, when two people with moderate to severe learning difficulties are cared for in a foster home and a specialist home for adolescents respectively.
G v E & Ors  EWHC 3385 (Fam) (21 December 2010) – Read judgment
Manchester City Council has been ordered to pay the full legal costs of a 20-year-old man with severe learning disabilities who was unlawfully removed from his long-term foster carer. The council demonstrated a “blatant disregard” for mental health law.
The case has wound an interesting route through the courts, with hearings in the Court of Protection, Court of Appeal, and also a successful application by the Press Association to reveal the identity of the offending local council in the interests of transparency. In August, Siobhain Butterworth wrote that the decision to name and shame the council was a “good” one which “marries the need for transparency in the treatment of vulnerable people with the right to a private life“.
Now, Mr Justice Baker has taken the unusual step of ordering that Manchester City Council pay all of E’s family’s legal costs. The general rule in the Court of Protection is that costs should not be awarded, but as the judge ruled it can be broken in certain circumstances:
D Borough Council v AB  EWHC 101 (COP) (28 January 2011) – Read judgment
In a case which is fascinating both legally and morally, a judge in the Court of Protection has ruled that a 41-year-old man with a mild learning disability did not have the mental capacity to consent to sex and should be prevented by a local council from doing so.
The case arose when a local council, following allegations that a mentally disabled man made sexual gestures towards children, sought a court order stating that “Alan” (a false name) did not have the mental capacity to consent to sexual relations. The council ultimately wanted Alan to be banned from having sexual relations with his former house-mate and sexual partner.