Eleven Winterbourne View staff have pleaded guilty to 38 charges of ill-treatment and neglect of a mental health patient under s127 Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA). In this post I want to consider why we need ‘special’ offences like s127 MHA and also s44 Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA), rather than prosecuting crimes in care settings using more ‘mainstream’ offences.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), with articles emphasising access to justice (Article 13) and equal recognition before the law (Article 12) encourages us to think about how we can ensure disabled people have effective access to the law that protects us all before we develop parallel ‘special’ systems of rights protection (see, for example, Inclusion Europe, European Disability Forum). So my question is: why are we using ‘special’ offences of ill-treatment and neglect to prosecute crimes that occur in care, rather than the ordinary ‘offences against the person’ those outside of care rely upon?
ZH v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis  EWHC 604 (QB) – read judgment
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) was long awaited; it took nearly two decades for the Law Commission’s proposals for codification of the common law on mental capacity to make their way onto the statute books. The MCA is generally considered to be quite progressive and I often hear it described as ‘empowering’ and granting people ‘rights to autonomy’.
I can see why this is said, but it actually belies an important aspect of the unique way in which the Act functions. Rather than granting ‘claim rights’ to autonomy, the MCA in fact sets out those circumstances when a person’s ordinary rights to self-determination may be infringed (see ss1-6 MCA). It does this by supplying a ‘general defence’ for those whose actions might trespass upon or violate a person’s ordinary legal rights. Continue reading
Last month the Ministry of Justice published a report of a pilot project that ran last year whereby participating family courts produced and published on Bailii written judgments of specified Children Act 1989 cases. The project had three main aims:
- to increase transparency and improve public understanding of the family justice system by publishing anonymised judgments in all serious children cases;
- to help parties by providing written judgments in all cases, even where a matter was not contested;
- to provide judgments which the children involved could access in later life.
The family courts are often perceived as ‘secretive’ or aloof; Munby LJ has made excellent arguments for greater transparency far more eloquently than I could hope to do in this speech (pdf)
Since BBC Panorama revealed shocking abuse of adults with learning disabilities in a private hospital run by Castlebeck Care Ltd, the care sector has engaged in widespread soul searching.
Paul Burstow instructed the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to carry out a national audit of all hospital services for adults with learning disabilities. Similar national audits were conducted following previous scandals relating to widespread abuse of adults with learning disabilities in Cornwall (here and here). In the CQC’s preliminary report on other Castlebeck services they expressed serious concerns about compliance with essential standards of quality and safety.
The human rights issue that stand out most powerfully in these reports is the widespread interference with patients’ autonomy and privacy. Take these finding from the report on Arden Vale, for instance:
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.