Wednesday’s debate on current key topics in the Court of Protection was a hard-hitting discussion on matters which elicit strong views, such as voluntary euthanasia, assisted suicide, the role of “dignity” and “sanctity of life”, and whether the latter two principles can ever be reconciled.
The fact that these are not essentially legal issues was underscored by the inclusion of ethics philosopher on the interventionist panel, Professor Anthony Grayling, who fielded the questions put to him alongside Philip Havers QC and Leigh Day solicitor Richard Stein. A video of the event will shortly be available on the 1 Crown Office Row website so I shall try to refrain from any spoilers, but here is a brief trailer to whet the appetite for a full recapitulation.
The evening started with a consideration of the Nicklinson and Martin cases, on voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide respectively. There were a number of questions put to the panel which essentially rolled up into this:
Should voluntary euthanasia be a possible defence to murder, or can we justify action with a primary purpose of killing a person on the grounds of preventing that person’s harm or suffering?
The panel was broadly in agreement that it should. Richard Stein observed that the argument that there can never be adequate safeguards to protect the vulnerable is being used as a “smokescreen”, and, equally, the notion that disabled people cannot exercise their free will to die because it reduces the value of disabled lives is a “hugely patronising” one. Continue reading →
R.P. and others v United Kingdom (9 October 2012) – read judgment
The day before our seminar on the Court of Protection and the right to autonomy, the Strasbourg Court has ruled on a closely related issue in a fascinating challenge to the role of the Official Solicitor in making decisions on behalf of individuals who are for one reason or another unable to act for themselves.
The Official Solicitor acts for people who, because they lack mental capacity and cannot properly manage their own affairs, are unable to represent themselves and no other suitable person or agency is able and willing to act. This particular case involved child care proceedings, but the question before the Court was the vital one that arises out of any situation where an individual is deemed to have lost capacity to represent his or her own interests in court. What the parties asked the Court to consider was whether
the appointment of the Official Solicitor in the present case was proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued or whether it impaired the very essence of R.P.’s right of access to a court. Continue reading →
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.
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.
I posted last week on the interesting and morally complex case in which a judge in the Court of Protection 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 Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail have picked up on this story. The Mail’s Richard Hartley-Parkinson appears to have based his article solely on the Telegraph’s, in light of this paragraph:
Mr Justice Mostyn said the case threw up issues ‘legally, intellectually and morally’ because sex is ‘one of the most basic human functions’ according to the Daily Telegraph.
A Local Authority v Mrs A, by her Litigation Friend, the Official Solicitor, and Mr A  EWHC 1549 (Fam) – Read judgment
In the first case of its kind, the court was asked to consider whether a young married woman lacks capacity to decide whether to use contraception, and whether it would be in her interests to be required to receive it.
Mrs A was a 29-year-old woman who suffered from serious learning difficulties, which put her intellectual functioning at approximately 0.1% of adults her age. In 2004 she gave birth to a daughter, and in 2005 she had a son. Both children were removed from her at birth because she did not have the capacity to take care of them.
A (BY HIS LITIGATION FRIEND THE OFFICIAL SOLICITOR) v INDEPENDENT NEWS & MEDIA LTD & ORS  EWCA Civ 343 – Read judgment
This appeal was bought on behalf of a severely disabled adult (known as “A”), against the order of Hedley J of 19 November 2009 that the media should be granted access to a hearing in the Court of Protection. The Lord Chief Justice has refused the appeal.
The case was unconventional, largely because of A’s own situation. A had been totally blind from birth and suffered from acute learning difficulties associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which meant that he was not able to lead an independent life and was dependent on others for his care. Despite this, however, A had taught himself the piano and had gone on to become an extraordinary gifted musician, and was described by the judge as ‘a man of remarkable accomplishment’. Continue reading →
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