In the news
LGBT campaigners have called for an urgent reform of the law, following the death of 21 year-old transgender woman Vicky Thompson in an all-male prison. Ms Thompson had previously said that she would take her own life if she were placed in a prison for men.
The system of locating transgender people within the prison estate has recently come into criticism after transgender woman Tara Hudson was placed at HMP Bristol, an all-male establishment. Ms Hudson spoke of being sexually harassed by other prisoners, before a petition signed by more than 150,000 people led to her eventual transfer to a women’s prison. Statistics from the US suggest that transgender women in male prisons are 13 times more likely than the general prison population to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated.
Under the current rules, in most cases prisoners must be located “according to their gender as recognised under UK law”, although the guidance allows discretion where the individual is “sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process.” But the case of Vicky Thompson has been said to show that “the law is simply not working. For people living for years as women to be sent to serve sentences in prisons for men is inviting disaster.”
Responding to a question on the issue, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Andrew Selous has stated that the government intends to implement “revised policy guidance… in due course.”
In other news:
- The Guardian: The Metropolitan Police has issued an unreserved apology and paid substantial compensation to women who were deceived into forming long-term intimate sexual relationships with undercover police officers. The police force acknowledged that the relationships had been “a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma.”
- BBC: Members of the public and journalists will be permitted to attend the majority of hearings in the Court of Protection, where issues affecting sick or vulnerable people are heard. The new pilot scheme is intended to provide greater transparency, whilst safeguarding the privacy of the people involved.
- MPs on the justice select committee have called for the scrapping of the criminal courts charge, voicing “grave misgivings” about whether it is “compatible with the principles of justice.” The charge of up to £1,200 is imposed on convicted criminals, and is not means-tested. In its report, the parliamentary committee expressed concern that the charge, which is higher for those convicted after pleading not guilty, was creating “perverse incentives” affecting defendant behaviour. The BBC reports here.
- The Legal Voice: The Ministry of Justice has announced that the introduction of duty provider contracts will be postponed until 1 April 2016. A number of legal proceedings have been issued, challenging the legitimacy of the procurement process. The decision has been welcomed by the Bar Council, which has consistently opposed measures it claims would “damage access to justice and the provision of high quality advocacy services.”
- BBC: A couple from north west London have been found guilty of keeping a man enslaved in their home for 24 years, in “a shocking case of modern slavery.” The couple had “total psychological control” over their victim, threatening that if he left the house he would be arrested by police as an illegal immigrant.
In the courts
The Court found that a family of asylum seekers evicted from an accommodation centre had been exposed to degrading treatment, in violation of their rights under article 3 ECHR. The family had been left in conditions of extreme poverty, without basic means of subsistence for a period of four weeks. The Belgian authorities had not paid due consideration to the vulnerability of the applicants, who had small children including a seriously disabled daughter.
UK HRB posts
Best interests, hard choices: The Baby C case – Leanne Woods
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Blankley v Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s University Hospitals NHS Trust, Phillips J with assessors, 5 February 2014 – read judgment
Upholding the rights of individuals who lack the mental capacity to conduct proceedings can be a minefield for the unwary or even, as shown by this case, the wary. The point at issue before the court was whether, where a party loses mental capacity in the course of proceedings, such loss of capacity has the automatic and immediate effect of terminating their solicitor’s retainer. Continue reading
Updated | The House of Lords ad hoc Select Committee on the Mental Capacity Act 2005 has now heard three sessions of evidence, and is currently calling for written evidence (deadline 3 September – details here).
The Committee, chaired by Lord Hardie (former Lord Advocate) and including such heavy-hitters as Lord Faulks (Ed Faulks QC as was) and Baroness Hollins (former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and current President of the BMA), aims to “scrutinise the legislation to see if it is working as Parliament intended” and to examined “whether the Government’s implementation programme was effective in embedding the guiding principles of the Act in every day practice, and whether there has been a noticeable change in the culture of care.”
Re SB (A patient; capacity to consent to termination)  EWHC 1417 (COP) 21 May 2013 – read judgment
Sidney Chawatama of 1 Crown Office Row represented the husband of the patient in this case. He has nothing to do with the writing of this post.
The patient in this case was a 37 year old highly intelligent graduate who worked in IT. For the past 8 years she presented with symptoms which were diagnosed as those of bi-polar disorder. She had been detained under compulsory or similar powers at various times in Italy, in France and here in England.
These proceedings were issued in the Court of Protection because the mother concerned was “very strongly” requesting a termination and giving her consent to it. The issue related to her capacity. Section 1(2) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 is very clear and provides as follows: “A person must be assumed to have capacity unless it is established that he lacks capacity.” Accordingly, unless it is established, on a balance of probability, that the mother does not have capacity to make the decision that she undoubtedly has made, her autonomy as an adult to request and consent to the proposed abortion procedure is preserved. Continue reading
RCW v A Local Authority  EWHC 235 (Fam) (12 February 2013) – Read judgment
This case, described by Cobb J as an “unusual and troubling” case, concerns a 1 year old girl “SB” and a woman “RCW”. SB was born prematurely, at 27 weeks, weighing just 1 kg; almost immediately she was abandoned by her natural mother.
She spent many months in the Special Care Baby Unit. In October 2012 SB was matched with RCW, a single woman who worked as a project manager for the NHS. In January 2013 things took an “unexpected and wretched turn” in the form of RCW’s diagnosis with a brain tumour. Hurriedly, RCW made arrangements with a cohort of friends to care for SB while RCW underwent surgery to remove the tumour which was situated near the optic nerve. The operation, whilst successful in removing the tumour, left RCW without sight; it is not known whether the lack of sight is temporary or will be permanent.
J Council v GU and others  EWHC 3531 (COP) – Read judgment
On 11 December 2012 Mr Justice Mostyn handed down judgment in J Council v GU and others  EWHC 3531 (COP) approving arrangements aimed at safeguarding the Article 8 (private and family life) rights of a 57 year old man detained under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in a private care home. At seven pages, the judgment was admirably concise.
The detained man concerned, referred to in the judgment as George, suffered from a number of separable mental disorders: childhood autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, dissocial personality disorder, mixed anxiety disorder and paedophilia. He lacked the capacity to litigate or to make decisions concerning his care needs (including where he lives), medication he should take, contact he should have with others and about his finances, property and affairs. It was likely that this incapacity would continue, possibly for the remainder of his life. He lived in a private care home and it was agree by all, including the Official Solicitor (who represented George in the proceedings) that it was in his best interests for him to remain living there indefinitely. Furthermore, he should be subjected to restrictions in relation to his contact with others and correspondence in order to minimise the risks that he presented.
Last month 1 Crown Office Row hosted a fascinating panel debate on the Court of Protection and the incredibly difficult issues surrounding assisted dying. The panel included Philip Havers QC, the philosopher A.C. Grayling and Leigh Day & Co.’s human rights partner Richard Stein. You can now view the video here or below. Also see here for Rosalind English’s report of the event.