What – if anything – can a claimant do when she suspects that the domestic law is not only out of kilter with Strasbourg jurisprudence but is also denying her even an opportunity to bring a claim? Taking arms against a whole legal system may be an heroic ideal, but the mundane reality is a strike out under CPR rule 3.4 by a district judge in the County Court. It is a long way from there to the European Court of Human Rights.
This was the position in which Patricia Reynolds and her daughter Catherine King found themselves following the sad death of (respectively) their son and brother. David Reynolds suffered from schizophrenia. On 16 March 2005 he contacted his NHS Care Co-ordinator and told him that he was hearing voices telling him to kill himself. There were no beds available in the local psychiatric unit, so Mr Reynolds was placed in a Council run intensive support unit. His room was on the sixth floor and at about 10.30 that night Mr Reynolds broke his (non-reinforced) window and fell to his death. 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.
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.
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 Savagein 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…”
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.
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.
The European Court of Human Rights has rejected the claim of a man detained by the police for 9 days under mental health law. Despite legislation deliberately making it difficult to sue authorities carrying out mental health functions, the court ruled that the law did not unduly restrict access to the courts.
Although Mr Seal ultimately lost, his claim – and in particular a strong dissenting judgment by Baroness Hale in the House of Lords – highlights the tricky line the state must tread in relation to people with mental health problems in relation to their access to justice.
Anam v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 1140 – Read judgment
This appeal raises interesting questions about the approach the courts should take when considering whether detention pending deportation is legal in a case involving an ex-convict with serious psychiatric illness. A failure to implement a Home Office policy on the subject did not automatically make the decision to detain unlawful. However, the Court of Appeal was not unanimous on what the correct test for legality was.
This was an appeal against a deportation decision by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Appellant had a long criminal record and in 2007 was sentenced to 4 years in prison for robbery. Later that year, the deportation decision was made. However, the Appellant also had a history of serious psychiatric illness.
The Ministry of Justice is a step closer to introducing specialist mental health courts, which would work within the criminal justice system to identify and assess offenders with mental health issues, and ensure that offenders received appropriate intervention.
TTM v London Borough of Hackney & Ors  EWHC 1349 (Admin) (11 June 2010) – Read judgment
A man accused of harassing women he did not know has failed in his human rights challenge to his detention under the Mental Health Act 1983. Having successfully secured a writ of habeas corpus to release him from a mental health institution, he has lost his initial bid for the High Court to declare that his detention ran contrary to his human rights. He is now appealing the decision.
This case has raised important questions about the extent of the ancient right of habeas corpus (relief from unlawful detention) and its interaction with the far more recent Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 (“ECHR”), as well as the ability of any wronged claimant to recover damages in circumstances where they are wrongly detained.
R (on the application of Dennis Gill) v Secretary of State for Justice – Read judgment
The Secretary of State for Justice should have done more to enable a prisoner with learning difficulties to participate in programmes which could have helped him gain an earlier release. In finding that the prisoner was discriminated against, the High Court has set down a precedent which will affect many other learning disabled prisoners.
Mr Justice Cranston held that participation in offender behaviour programmes would have made it easier for Mr Gill to persuade a Parole Board that he was suitable for release. His participation in them had been recommended but his learning difficulties had prevented him from taking part, and as such the Secretary of State for Justice had discriminated against him contrary to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
BJ (Incapacitated Adult) sub nom Salford City Council V BJ (By His Litigation Friend The Official Solicitor)  EWHC 3310 (Fam) – Read judgment
Where there is a deprivation of liberty within the meaning of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, regular reviews by the court are not merely desirable but essential.
This case concerned the application of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights to the ongoing review of the continuing detention of persons lacking capacity. The individual in question was a 23 year old man, BJ. As BJ lacked capacity, it was found that his best interests would be served by his continued residence at a location referred to as “MH”.
As such, the care plan devised by the local authority and approved by Lord Justice Munby (in the original hearing of 16 May 2008), required the deprivation of BJ’s liberty within the meaning of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Given that BJ was being deprived of his liberty, Article 5 required a review by the court of the lawfulness of his detention at ‘reasonable intervals’. Munby LJ had set out the frequency and nature of any review at the previous hearing and at paragraph 10 of this judgment the LJ again highlighted the importance of regular reviews in such circumstances,
Savage (Respondent) v South Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (Appellant)  EWHC 865 (QB) – Read judgment
The High Court has ruled that a mental health trust was responsible for the death of a patient who threw herself in front of a train. The judgment marks the end of a long and complex case, and a significant shift in the law relating to public authorities’ responsibility to preserve life under the Human Rights Act. The trust must now pay Mrs Savage’s daughter £10,000 in compensation.
Carol Savage committed suicide on 5 July 2004 at age 50. At the time of her death, she was detained at Runwell Hospital under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983. She had suffered from mental illness intermittently for many years.
After Mrs Savage’s death, her daughter Anna made a claim on the basis that the hospital owed her, as a victim of the death, a duty under the Human Rights Act 1998. The basis of her claim was that the hospital had failed in its duty to protect her mother under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to life. She also made a claim in her own right under Article 8 (right to family life).
Mental health patients and the right to life
Before making a decision on the liability of the trust, the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) was asked to decide a preliminary issue relating to it’s responsibility under Article 2 (read decision). The Trust argued that the reasoning in Osman v United Kingdom (23452/94) (1999) 1 FLR 193 ECHR was not applicable to the care of hospital patients. In Osman, the European Court of Human Rights held that there is a positive obligation for a State to take preventive measures to protect individuals whose life is at risk.
The trust argued that applying Osman to mental health care would conflict with other obligations of medical staff to their patients and encourage them to be too restrictive of patients’ liberty for fear that they might commit suicide.
The House of Lords threw out the Trust’s appeal. They held that Article 2 put health authorities under an overarching obligation to protect the lives of their patients. If members of staff know, or are in a position to know, that a particular patient presented a real and immediate risk of suicide, there as an additional “operational” obligation to do all that could reasonably be expected to prevent such an eventuality.
End of the saga
The case has now finally concluded, with Mr Justice Mackay finding that the trust could and should have done more to protect Mrs Savage. He said “all that was required to give her a real prospect or substantial chance of survival was the imposition of a raised level of observations, which would not have been an unreasonable or unduly onerous step to require of the defendant…”
OM (ALGERIA) v SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT  EWHC 65 (Admin) – Read judgment
The claimant’s detention pending deportation was unlawful where (1) the Secretary of State had failed to take account of the guidance on immigration detention, which indicated that the mentally ill were usually unsuitable for detention and (2) the Secretary of State had failed to notify the Claimant of his right of appeal once a Court of Appeal had, in a similar case, determined such a right to exist.
The Claimant, having entered the UK illegally in 1996, had a string of criminal convictions and a Class A drug habit. Although he had claimed asylum in 1999 the whole of his claim was found by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (“AIT”) to be a fabrication. He had married and had two young children in the UK. The most significant issue, however, was his diagnosis in 2003 as suffering from schizophrenia.
With apologies, this post originally appeared with the wrong title
The Court of Appeal has ruled on two linked challenges to the entitlement to welfare benefits of prisoners detained in psychiatric hospitals. One claim alleged unlawful discrimination as compared with other psychiatric patients not serving sentences, in breach of Article 14 ECHR, taken together with Article 1 Protocol 1 ECHR. The other claim raised a point of construction of the relevant regulations affecting one category of such prisoners
The discrimination aspect of the case considered two categories of convicted, sentenced prisoners: those transferred to psychiatric hospitals under section 47 of the Mental Health Act 1983, and those subject to hospital and limitation directions under section 45A of the Act. Prisoners in the first category are transferred after sentence, and generally after serving time in prison, while those in the second were subject to a direction at the same time as they are sentenced. Such prisoners were to be contrasted with, on the one hand, convicted prisoners who serve their sentence in prison and, on the other, patients who have been detained under purely civil law powers or under section 37 of the Act (that is, following conviction, but without any sentence having been passed). Continue reading →
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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