rightsinreality

Thoughts on the crossroads of law, politics and society – for when a tweet isn't enough. This blog contains general information and commentary on legal matters. It is not intended to provide legal advice. This blog discusses the law in England, unless otherwise stated.

Category: Human Rights

Seeking legal change in the courts – case study of a Supreme Court intervention

I had the privilege of being instructed by the Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN), part of the National Children’s Bureau, in a recent Supreme Court intervention with colleagues at Irwin Mitchell’s public law team. The case concerned the different treatment of cohabiting partners and their children in relation to bereavement benefits compared with married couples. In this guest post, CBN’s Director Alison Penny describes the process of intervening in a case before the UK’s highest court and offers tips for other NGOs considering intervening in cases with wider public importance.

The problem 

Here at the CBN, we get fairly regular incredulous phone calls or emails asking us if it’s true that unmarried, cohabiting parents can’t claim bereavement benefits if one of them dies. Usually, the call comes from someone ringing on behalf of a friend or family member who has recently faced the devastating loss of their partner. They have been told that the family won’t be eligible for bereavement benefits, and simply can’t believe in this day and age that this is true.

Astonishingly, it is. We know that each year, around 2,000 families face the double blow of one parent dying and the other discovering that they and the children won’t get bereavement benefits. On average, these families lose out by over £12,000 before their children reach adulthood. Parents make the same National Insurance contributions whether they are married or not. These build up their entitlement to a state pension or, if they die before they can draw it, to survivor benefits for their family. But these benefits are only paid if the survivor was married to or in a civil partnership with the person who died.

Some couples with children choose not to marry, or can’t marry, for a range of reasons, and are fully aware of the financial risks this brings. But alarmingly, more than half of couples living together have no idea: they believe that by cohabiting they have the same legal rights as if they were married. In fact, there is no such thing as common law marriage in the UK (unless the couple were living together ‘with habit and repute’ before 2006 in Scotland).

This lack of awareness stems in part from the inconsistent treatment of cohabiting couples. If the government insists on treating you and your live-in partner as a couple for tax credits and means-tested benefits, why would you expect to need a marriage certificate to receive bereavement benefits? For us at CBN, the problem is that as well as discriminating against the surviving partner on the grounds of their marital status, the policy also discriminates against the couple’s children.

CBN’s campaigning on the issue

Until very recently, we took a two-pronged approach to tackling this social injustice. We tried to raise public awareness of the lack of rights for cohabiting couples through our Plan If campaign, and at the same time coordinated a group of concerned organisations lobbying in Parliament to whoever would listen. We gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, and on the strength of this the Committee recommended in March 2016 that eligibility be extended to cohabiting couples with children. But the Government held fast to its position that inheritable benefits derived from someone else’s National Insurance contributions have always rested on the marriage or civil partnership, and they were not minded to look at this again.

Cohabitation and the courts

Alongside this dual approach, we followed with interest the case of Siobhan McLaughlin. She and her partner John had four children together during their 23 year partnership. They never married, because prior to meeting Siobhan, John had promised his dying wife that he would not remarry. After John’s death, Siobhan learned that she was not eligible for Widowed Parents’ Allowance to help raise the children. She appealed this and won her challenge in the High Court in Belfast in December 2015, but this was subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal. However, she was given leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

We read the judgments from the High Court and Court of Appeal and felt that there was some contextual material missing which frustrated us. We knew that our parliamentary campaigning was likely to stall until the Court made its ruling, so we resigned ourselves to sitting on the sidelines.

Making an intervention

However, colleagues from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) soon got in touch to ask if we would be seeking permission to intervene in the case. Not being familiar with the judicial process, we had to look up what this meant. Realising that this could give us an opportunity to share in court the evidence we’d been gathering for parliamentarians and the media, we were keen to consider it. We contacted the Registry at the Supreme Court who were extremely helpful in explaining the process, but realised we needed more support. We got in touch with Steve Broach, a former colleague with the National Children’s Bureau and Council for Disabled Children, now a human rights barrister at Monckton Chambers. At that stage, we just needed someone who’d be able to answer our very uninformed questions about the process.

Steve read the case papers through, and we talked through what evidence we had or could collect that might be helpful to the court. He offered to represent us pro bono and kindly introduced us to solicitor Alex Rook at Irwin Mitchell, who agreed to work with us on the same terms. Without these most generous gifts of time, there is no way that a tiny organisation such as ours would have been able to get involved. We have just 1.4 full time equivalent members of staff, and we have to marshall these resources very carefully.

Steve and Alex talked us through the process, and spoke to our counterparts at CPAG to make sure that our interventions would complement rather than repeat one another. They helped us seek consent from Siobhan’s and the government’s solicitors to ask for permission to make written interventions and, crucially, an undertaking that they would not seek costs against us. Without this clear undertaking, we had to weigh up the financial risks of intervening. After very careful consideration of the risks set out by Steve and Alex, we decided to go ahead.

Preparing the submissions

What followed was a twin track process of gathering the evidence we wanted to submit, and making sure it was in the format that the Supreme Court required. There were almost as many emails about font size as there were about legal arguments! Meeting the strict deadline to make our submissions involved some very late nights.

Two widowed parents had contacted us during our earlier campaigning work to describe how bereavement benefits for children were structured elsewhere in Europe. This was a crucial part of our evidence, and we put a call out to NCB colleagues to enlist foreign-language-speaking friends and family to translate obscure social security documentation for us.

Alex and his colleague Rosie did a superb job of juggling multiple copies of documents, suffixed with ever-increasing version numbers. It was a huge relief when the bundle was submitted, and there were no further tweaks we could make.

Approaching the hearing

 There were however many more questions to pose to Steve and Alex, who were endlessly responsive and good-humoured. We needed to know more about the process, including whether we could attend in person and when the judgement was likely to come out. We had many queries about the media work we could and should do in the run-up to the hearing, and consulted on the wording of tweets and press releases.

Thanks to Siobhan and her solicitor Laura Banks’ willingness to talk to the media, the case was covered extensively in the run up to the hearing on 30 April. The Supreme Court heard the case during its first ever sitting in Belfast, and there was a palpable sense of excitement in the court buildings at hosting the sitting. We even managed a little live-tweeting.

It was pleasing to hear our evidence being mentioned by the other parties in the case during their oral submissions – those late nights felt worth it. But more broadly it felt good to be present for the culmination of many years’ work from campaigning organisations and from Siobhan and her legal team. She and her children attended the hearing and provided an excellent demonstration of the legislature in action.

Ideally, the government would have changed its position years ago, and there would have been no need for Siobhan to put herself and her family through the effort and scrutiny of taking the case to court. Whatever the outcome, she has done a brave thing in drawing the court’s attention to this issue, and raising awareness among the general public along the way. We are proud to have been part of this. Now we are more familiar with the process, we would feel more confident about intervening again in cases that relate to discrimination against grieving children and those caring for them. It’s a new string to our campaigning bow.

Advice to potential interveners

  •  Talk to any other actual or potential interveners in the case to make sure that your evidence won’t be repetitive.
  • Weigh up the risks and benefits of intervening carefully. Involve all those who are necessary to the decision at an early stage – but remember that you can always withdraw right up to the point you send in your submissions.
  • Some of the evidence you would usually include in a briefing paper or campaign document might not be relevant or admissible to the court. Listen to your lawyers about what you should include.
  • Be well organised. It will be much easier for your legal team to advise you and keep track of document versions if you set out your queries and amendments clearly.
  • If you don’t already know any solicitors or barristers who may be willing and able to advise and act for you in an intervention, you can try contacting Law Works, a charity which connect volunteer lawyers with people in need of legal advice, who are not eligible for legal aid and cannot afford to pay and with the not-for-profit organisations that support them. You can also ask other NGOs in your sector if they know of lawyers with the right expertise who may be interested in your potential intervention.
  • You might find it helpful to attend a training course on the use of judicial review, such as that offered by the Child Poverty Action Group
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It’s not funny, to cut SEND money

I have shamelessly stolen the title for this blog post from Milo, a young man involved in the successful campaigning on SEN cuts in Hackney. Milo chose a donation from me to the fund to help save the Kids playground in Hackney as the price of this theft. Milo explained why as follows: ‘I am choosing the Kids adventure playground because I like it and it’s really cool to play in because disabled children can play there with their brothers and sisters.’ Please support the playground if you can.

So local authorities across England have now set their budgets for 2018-19 or will do so in the coming weeks. Some have taken every possible step to protect the services that matter to disabled children, young people and their families. Others, not so much. This blog post highlights some points of interest for all concerned with saving these vital services and challenging cuts.

First, I’m taking part in a webinar with Contact and Alex Rook from  Irwin Mitchell solicitors on ‘Using the law to challenge cuts’. The webinar is now fully subscribed but will be available to view through Contact online after the event – details tbc. If you can’t attend the webinar but have questions for us please either leave comments here or tweet me (@stevebroach). There is also very helpful advance reading in a guest blog from Alex’s colleague Mathieu Culverhouse dealing with the practicalities of using the law to challenge cuts.

Alex was the solicitor for the amazing families in #NascotLawnJR. In the unlikely event that there is anyone reading this blog who doesn’t already know, this case involved a number of families whose children have complex health needs who came together and fought the decision by their Clinical Commissioning Group (the local NHS) to pull funding for an overnight short break centre. The CCG’s funding decision has now been held unlawful and quashed by the court not once, but twice.

The outcome of Nascot Lawn is powerful evidence that judicial review can achieve real benefits for disabled children, young people and families – ensuring cuts cannot be made unless and until a lawful process has been adopted. It is important to emphasise that even ‘process’ challenges – for example concerning a failure to consult lawfully or to discharge the ‘public sector equality duty’ – can have real and lasting benefits. Where a cut is quashed because it was adopted following an unlawful process it routinely happens that the public body do not remake the decision but instead find the necessary savings another way. This is supported by excellent research from the Public Law Project which found that ‘Claimants for JR gained a wide range of tangible benefits: the most common of which were conferment or retention of a service by a public body…’.

However in relation to the coming round of cuts it may well be possible to go beyond the typical ‘process’ challenges in judicial review. In fact Nascot Lawn itself was more than a ‘process’ challenge – the CCG’s funding decision was held to be unlawful in substance as the CCG had failed to appreciate that Nascot Lawn was a ‘health service’ under the NHS Act. As this blog post explains, services for disabled children, young people and families are supported by a range of ‘specific’, ‘sufficiency; and ‘due regard’ duties. It may well be that some of the proposed cuts are unlawful in substance because they will result in the local authority (or CCG) breaching one or more of these duties. This will not then just be a question of the decision being quashed and the local authority or CCG being required to think again – if any of these kinds of challenges succeed then the cut would not be able to be made at , or at least not in the form held to be unlawful by the court.

Of course local challenges will only be able to do so much in the current context. Local authorities cannot magic up sufficient money to replace the central government funds they have lost. This is why campaigning efforts towards central government such as this petition by the Disabled Children’s Partnership are so important. It is only through work like this that we can move away from making sure that cuts are lawful to a focus on the kind of investment and expansion in services and support that families really need to see.

A final point – I wanted to emphasise that cuts are a human rights issue. The ‘socio-economic’ rights under the UN Conventions on children’s rights and disabled people’s rights all require ‘progressive realisation’ – as the Disability Convention states (Article 4(2)), the government has undertaken to ‘take measures to the maximum of its available resources…with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of these rights’. In simple terms that there should be ongoing progress towards achieving the rights to education, health, independent living and so on for disabled children and young people. This is why the UN Committee, in its General Comment on the right to education, states that ‘any deliberately retrogressive measures’ on education funding ‘must not disproportionately target learners with disabilities at any level of education’. In my view the same must hold true for health, social care and all other areas of public life which matter to disabled children and young people (i.e. everything).

If this post leads you to want to consider challenging cuts in your area, you may want to contact a specialist solicitor – and you will need to move quickly, as if funding is to be restored a judicial review would need to be heard within a matter of weeks if at all possible.

Mendip House – not ‘safeguarding’ failures but rights violations

This week I have been mostly cheering on families challenging the closure of an NHS short break unit in Hertfordshire, watching with a combination of awe and anger as George Julian live tweeted Richard Handley’s inquest* and feeling sickened and disgusted by the reports of the Safeguarding Adults Review of Mendip House, the former National Autistic Society (NAS) service in Somerset. Not the happiest week. This blog post is about the last of these three horror shows. The NAS position statement is here.

I’ve read lots of the commentary this week at the #MendipHouse hashtag on twitter. The most powerful comment for me was that by Neil Crowther: ‘When Panorama exposed Winterbourne View a human rights expert described the treatment filmed as ‘torture’. The treatment described here in a residential home run by [NAS] is also torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and must be labelled as such.’ Only judges and treaty bodies get to decide that human rights have been breached, but like Neil I struggle to see how the kind of treatment of the residents at Mendip House described in the Safeguarding Adults Review** can be anything other than inhuman and degrading – and thereby prohibited by Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I also share the concern Neil expressed in a later tweet about the radio silence from the ‘mainstream’ human rights bodies on this issue – feeding the unfortunate impression that violations of disabled people’s rights are not ‘real’ human rights violations.

The only positive contribution I may have to the discussion is to flag section 73 of the Care Act 2014, which makes clear that voluntary and private sector providers of state-funded adult social care are now covered by the Human Rights Act 1998. This means that a resident of a private or voluntary sector care home (or a recipient of domiciliary care) can bring a claim that their human rights are being or have been violated in exactly the same way as if they were in a state-run institution (see below for more on ‘institutions’ in this context). Although the Care Act only applies to adult social care, in my view it is very likely that the courts would now take the same approach in relation to children’s social care and NHS-funded care for both children and adults, in order to avoid unlawful discrimination contrary to Article 14 ECHR. However until this is tested in court the position is unclear. Equally, until the first voluntary or private sector provider is successfully sued using section 73 of the Care Act, I’d imagine this very important extension of disabled people’s rights will continue to be little known and poorly understood.

A number of really important questions seem to me to arise from what happened at Mendip House. The first is whether charities should be running services at all. In my view the only justification for a national charity running services that can only benefit a handful of individuals is that these services act as an exemplar of what can be provided to all. As such my view is that every service run by a charity should have an ‘outstanding’ rating. Charities should sell off services rated only ‘good’ or below to the private sector or non-profit companies; if the service isn’t ‘outstanding’ it can’t be an exemplar. Of course what was going on at Mendip House was about as far from ‘outstanding’ care as it’s possible to get, as the NAS recognised by closing the service.

Secondly, should charities be running these kinds of services? Dr Oliver Lewis of Doughty Street Chambers and Leeds University published a powerful thread on twitter suggesting that ‘institutional’ care breaches Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on independent living and community inclusion. Oliver linked to the UN Committee’s General Comment on Article 19 from last year, which stated that assessments that disabled people were ‘unable’ to live outside institutional settings were ‘contrary to article 19’ and that independent living means ‘life settings outside institutions of all kinds’. While I would completely sign up to the programme of deinstitutionalisation called for by the UN Committee in its recent concluding observations on the UK, I’m not convinced that this means that there can be no charity-run residential care. Residential care provision can be (although admittedly rarely is) run wholly in keeping with the letter and spirit of Article 19, promoting genuine community inclusion. Equally I agree with Mark Neary that some of what passes for ‘independent living’ in this country is as alienating and segregating as the worst of residential care. What seems to me to be the greatest priority is ensuring that disabled people have ‘choices equal to others’ about where they live, in the language of Article 19. So (1) there ought to be a duty on local authorities to develop the widest possible range of community support services, and (2) local authorities and NHS bodies should be prevented from taking the cost of residential care into account when developing community support packages – precisely as we called for in #LBBill.

Thirdly, what’s the point of the big disability charities? On this one I am in complete agreement with Polly Neate, the chief executive of Shelter, who tweeted the following: ‘I think if local and activist-led groups and larger charities with more capacity join forces around an issue, there’s more potential to achieve change than traditional Westminster/Whitehall public affairs and so-called “insider” influencing’. But the prerequisite for this must be that the big charities have ‘clean hands’ – the least of it being that if things go badly wrong there is a prompt, complete and up-front public apology.

I’ll end on by returning to an earlier theme – that abuse such as that uncovered at Mendip House needs to be part of the mainstream human rights discourse. There are brilliant disabled activists, family members, academics and lawyers speaking more and more publicly about disabled people’s human rights. They need the full support of the major human rights organisations to make sure abuse like this is not framed as merely a ‘safeguarding’ failure but as human rights violations.

*Help fund George’s work here: https://chuffed.org/project/richard-handleys-inquest

**See in particular table 1 on pp5-6 of the report which goes through blow by blow the allegations in relation to individual residents.

New case law updates on disabled children’s rights

Quick post (first for some time) to flag the new case law updates published by the Council for Disabled Children with its Summer Digest. These will hopefully be of interest to disabled young people, families and professionals.

The first covers two Upper Tribunal appeals brought by Hillingdon and Buckinghamshire. Both appeals considered the appeal rights for young people (aged 16-25) and the approach to be taken where a young person lacks capacity to bring their own appeal. The Buckinghamshire decision gives important guidance on the meaning of ‘education’ for young people.

The second is about another important Upper Tribunal decision (this time in an appeal by Staffordshire) which gives clarity about school transport entitlements for young people. It is important for young people and families to note the conclusion that the Tribunal cannot resolve disputes in relation to school transport and that the correct remedy is judicial review.

The third concerns a successful human rights claim against Kent in the context of care proceedings. The judgment suggests that serious failures to comply with the duties owed to disabled children under the Children Act 1989 may result in breaches of the Human Rights Act 1998, which may in turn lead to damages being awarded.

All three updates are themselves summarised in the main CDC Digest (see p14 onwards).

Legal Essentials for Advocates and Activists, Manchester, 9 Feb 2016 (New Date)

A quick post to say that I’m running ‘Legal Essentials for Advocates and Activists‘ training with the Public Law team at Irwin Mitchell in Manchester on  9 February 2016*.

The training is aimed at non-lawyers who need to use the law to advocate for individual clients and / or for wider social change. Some of the key topics covered will include:

  • How to make real the rights in international conventions – e.g. children, disability
  • What the ‘common law’ is, and how some key concepts – rationality, fairness, duty to consult – can be used in advocacy work
  • Powers and duties – and the key distinction between ‘specific’ and ‘general’ duties in understanding rights

The training is priced according to organisation size and the rate for individuals and small organisations is £50 plus VAT – all the free places for disabled people and carers having now been allocated.

For more of a taste of the kind of issues we will be covering on 9 February, the ‘Legal Fundamentals’ chapter of Disabled Children: A Legal Handbook is now available for free download.

Please spread the word about the training to anyone who may be interested in getting a better understanding of how the law works in practice. We will hope to run the training in other cities in future years.

More information on the training and booking details are available here.

*Moved from January 2015 as a result of a problem with room bookings

Disabled Children: A Legal Handbook – second edition now available

I’m thrilled / relieved to say that the second edition of Disabled Children: A Legal Handbook is now available online.

Legal Action Group published the first edition in 2010. It is astonishing how much of the text has had to be rewritten some five years later. We have had a wholly new SEN scheme under the Children and Families Act 2014, major changes to social care for disabled young people and those in transition to adulthood under the Care Act 2014 and a massive reorganisation of the health service under the Health and Social Care Act 2012. All this change has basically made the first edition a museum piece.

As well as covering these headline Acts and the relevant regulations and guidance as best we can, we also have some fantastic new content for the second edition. Camilla Parker has produced the definitive guide to decision making and issues in relation to capacity and competence. Polly Sweeney has given us an incredibly useful resource by way of a chapter on all the forms of remedies available to disabled children, young people and families (as well as updating the Education chapter). Rebekah Carrier led on major improvements to the Housing chapter, including new content on how to help make sure families get a home which is suitable for their needs.

We also had the benefit of excellent input from Martha Spurrier who updated the Health chapter and Louise Price who updated the Equality and Non-Discrimination chapter.

The co-authors remain myself, Prof Luke Clements and Dr Janet Read. If (when) people discover we’ve got anything wrong, it’s our fault.

The law affecting disabled children, young people and families is excessively and unnecessarily complex. The complexity has been made worse by the new legislation, which sits on top of old law dating back at least until 1970. We have done our best to make the book as accessible as possible while accurately stating the law. We hope the extensive cross-referencing will help non-lawyers find their way around the text.

As with the first edition, all the chapters of the book will again be published online free of charge by the Council for Disabled Children – I’ll confirm when the downloads are available. I hope anyone who would print the whole thing out would consider buying the book instead (!)

Above all, I hope the book continues to make a contribution to ensuring that disabled children, young people and families get the services and support to which they are entitled by law.

Final thought – as I tweeted earlier, we are very proud to have part of the Justice Quilt on the cover (see image above). I hope anyone who buys the book will also sign up to show their support for the Justice for LB campaign as they continue to struggle to get justice from the system.

Challenging local cuts – some key legal questions

Following the political choices set out in the recent Spending Review, it would seem inevitable that local authorities are going to need to make cuts to important services next year, including those provided to children and disabled people. Recent Kings Fund analysis shows that the 2% precept on council tax is a totally inadequate solution to the funding crisis for adult social care. No-one seems to be talking about what the Spending Review means for children’s social care, which wasn’t even mentioned on the Department for Education press release – but it is unlikely to be good news.

The issue now is not whether there should be cuts, but whether the cuts which have to be made are lawful, both in terms of their effect on services and those who use them and the process by which the decisions were made. As Mr Justice Blake said in R (Rahman) v Birmingham City Council (para 46) in relation to the ‘public sector equality duty’ (PSED) found in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010:

Even where the context of decision making is financial resources in a tight budget, that does not excuse compliance with the PSEDs and indeed there is much to be said for the proposition that even in the straightened times the need for clear, well-informed decision making when assessing the impacts on less advantaged members of society is as great, if not greater.

In rather an Alice in Wonderland way, Parliament has continued to impose new duties on local authorities at the same time as central government has taken their funding away to comply with them. However this means that councils need to take the hard decisions that will be made in their budgets for 2016-17 and beyond with a crystal clear understanding of their legal obligations. Although there may come a time where a local authority is unable to set a budget which allows it to meet all its legal duties, I doubt we are there yet.

Councils are currently working up and consulting on their budgets for 2016-17, so now is the time when residents and local groups may want to ask some of these legal questions:

Will the council be able to meet all its ‘specific’ statutory duties owed to individual residents? For example:

  1. The duty to meet all ‘eligible’ needs for disabled adults and their carers under the Care Act 2014
  2. The duty to meet ‘eligible’ needs for disabled children under section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970
  3. The duty to provide free suitable home to school travel arrangements for all ‘eligible’ disabled children under section 508B of the Education Act 1996
  4. The duty to secure special education provision in education, health and care plans for disabled children and young people in section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014
  5. The duty to provide advocacy to disabled people and carers during the care and support assessment and planning process under section 67 of the Care Act 2014.

Will the council be able to meet its ‘sufficiency’ duties to have a sufficient level of particular services to meet local needs? For example:

  1. Childcare, including childcare for disabled children up to the age of 18, under section 6 of the Childcare Act 2006
  2. Short breaks for disabled children under regulation 4 of the Breaks for Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011
  3. Education and care services for disabled children, under section 27(2) of the Children and Families Act 2014
  4. Children’s centres, under section 5A of the Childcare Act 2006
  5. Services for disabled adults and their carers, under the ‘market shaping’ duty in section 5 of the Care Act 2014

Has the council had ‘due regard’ to the needs specified in the PSED (see above) – for example the need to advance equality of opportunity for disabled people (children and adults)?

Will the proposed cuts give rise to unlawful discrimination between different groups, contrary either to the Equality Act 2010 or Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights?

Has the council had regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children under section 11 of the Children Act 2004?

Has the council treated children’s best interests as a primary consideration in its decision making, as required by Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?*

Has there been ‘fair’ consultation on the proposals? In particular (quotes are from the leading consultation case of ex parte Coughlan:

  1. Has consultation taken place at a ‘formative stage’, i.e. sufficiently early in the decision making to influence the outcome?
  2. Have consultees been provided with ‘sufficient reasons for any proposal to permit of intelligent consideration and response’ – i.e. do residents know what cuts are being proposed and why?
  3. Have consultees had ‘adequate time’ for consideration and response?
  4. Once the consultation has finished, has ‘the product of consultation’ been ‘conscientiously taken into account’ in the final decision.

Several of these legal principles – for example consultation, non-discrimination and the PSED – apply equally to NHS bodies such as clinical commissioning groups who may also be contemplating cuts to valued services.

If residents and local groups are not getting answers to these questions, or are unhappy with the answers coming back, then the next step may be to consult a specialist solicitor who can advise on whether there may be a challenge via judicial review. It is essential that any challenge to financial decision making is brought extremely promptly – so advice should be obtained before any final decision is made if possible, or otherwise straight after the decision.

It is also important to bear in mind that not all councils are equal – particularly given the increased focus on councils raising revenue from their own areas. Residents and local groups may want to ask questions about what level of reserves their particular council holds – particularly ‘free’ or unallocated reserves. Although spending reserves is obviously only a short term solution, it may be possible to use reserves to mitigate some of the cuts and help with transition to alternative forms of provision.

It is unlikely that legal challenge alone is going to be sufficient where cuts are proposed – there also needs to be political pressure. There are a number of guides for local groups on how to campaign, including campaigning against cuts or to save services. I really like this one from the Every Disabled Child Matters campaign.

Local politics will still come down to local priorities, although the choices will get harder than ever. In the light of the duties above, the law requires councils to give significant priority to services for children and disabled people. It is hoped that the decision by Hampshire not to cut its short breaks budget for 2016-17 is therefore one that other local authorities will follow to the extent they can.

*We can save detailed arguments about whether and why the UN CRC has to be followed when it is not directly incorporated into English law for any case that goes to court.

Talk to Housing and Support Alliance Independent Living conference

Absolutely cracking conference put on by the Housing and Support Alliance today. Real unity in the room that we need to fight for the right to independent living in these challenging times.

My slot was given the title ‘Rights are more important now than ever’. This is roughly what I said:

What’s the point of people with learning disabilities having legal rights? Some people (including I suspect some lawyers) don’t think that this area of law is ‘real law’. On this view, local authorities and NHS bodies should just be left to get on with providing whatever support they think they can afford, perhaps subject to inspections from official bodies to make sure things don’t get too bad.

But in the 21st century as a society we don’t think that’s good enough. Instead most of us sign up to a view that everyone, including disabled people, has fundamental rights that have to be respected.

We have these rights because we are human – that’s why they are called human rights. So when councils put disabled people in places where they are not free to leave and they are subject to continuous supervision and control (watched all the time), this is a deprivation of their liberty, the same as it would be for everyone else. It needs to be properly justified and approved by law to stop there being a breach of Article 5 of the ECHR, the right to liberty.

But we also recognise in the 21st century that if we just have one set of rights for everyone we won’t ensure that everyone’s rights are properly respected. So we reflect the fact that different groups have different needs and set out their rights – women, children and finally and most recently disabled people.

So Ian’s right* – we are part of the civil rights movement. And Gary’s right* – we need to save the Human Rights Act. I think it’s striking that two of the people fronting the Act for the Act campaign are Jan Sutton and Mark Neary. Jan is a disabled women who used the Human Rights Act to get a package of care which meant she could live with dignity. Mark, as I imagine everyone here knows, can speak to the power of the Human Rights Act in helping get his son Steven home. So the Human Rights Act is fundamental to realising disabled people’s human rights.

We now have the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the CRPD). This is our Bill of Rights. It is a full package of rights, which if respected in every case would mean true independent living and community inclusion for every disabled person. Although it is still not part of our law, in the same way that the European Convention on Human Rights is through the Human Rights Act, the courts are giving the CRPD ever greater weight – for example, in helping find unlawful discrimination against disabled children in hospital who lose their disability benefits after 84 days.

If people think about the CRPD, they generally think about Article 19 – described as the right to independent living. But Article 19 is actually headed ‘living independently and being included in the community’. And that’s what it’s about – real inclusion, meaning ordinary lives, and the kind of love and relationships Sara** was talking about.

And then we have the next set of rights, those given by Parliament in specific acts like the Care Act 2014. These rights can move around and change in the details, but the basics endure.

For example the right for disabled people to have their eligible social care needs met in full regardless of the cost carries on from the old scheme to the Care Act 2014. However – if there are two ways of genuinely meeting the person’s needs the state can meet needs in the most cost-effective way; we see straight away how disputes arise.

But the basics aren’t enough. So there’s a right to personal care – but what about as Sally and Laura*** say, when your personal care gets ‘done’ by someone you don’t know, who only has 15 minutes with you and doesn’t have the time to get to know you or show you respect. Is that rights-respecting care? Of course not – either under the Care Act or the Human Rights Act.

So rights are always ‘important’, in the sense that if the law requires something to be done it must be done. Law trumps everything – even (surprise surprise) local authority policies.

But why might it be thought that rights are more important now than ever? The answer is obvious; because disabled people are under sustained attack from government policies that cut the specific fund to support independent living, undermine entitlements to social security, reduce access to legal aid and make it virtually impossible for councils to comply with their statutory duties through reducing their budgets.

And if it’s hard for councils now, we know that after the next spending review later this month it will almost certainly get worse. The Local Government Association say that with the expected cuts there will be:

  • Legal challenges because councils aren’t meeting their Care Act duties
  • Less dignified care
  • More unmet need

So rights matter because they are a way of fighting back. They give content to our shouts where people are living impoverished non-lives, as Sara said. If there is a legal duty to provide – for example – the personal care a disabled person needs to lead a dignified life, then the state can be made to provide it.

Tom**** seems to be saying we have to accept the cuts. I say no – we have to enforce the law. Isn’t it interesting that Tom says – rightly – that where you live is going to make a massive difference to the support you get. But yet the law of England is the law of England…

Should people keep paying for their support with their freedom – definitely not? Should the number of people getting state support be reducing, as Tom showed? Definitely not – there has been no legal change that would allow this. Indeed councils aren’t allowed any more to have only care for ‘critical’ needs. If anything eligibility criteria should be getting more generous rather than reducing.

We can’t fund fewer people or give them less support because the law doesn’t allow it. Indeed there is an open question as to whether Elaine McDonald’s case would be decided differently now the Care Act is in force. Would the Care Act well-being duty allow for the provision of incontinence pads in cases such as this.

With respect to Tom, it shouldn’t be a choice between libraries and social care. There are duties to have both. If the government wants to change that, they need to ask Parliament to change the law.

Until they do, surely soon we will see legal challenges by local authorities on the basis they haven’t been given enough money to comply with their legal duties? Indeed we already have – two councils took the government to court to get more funding to implement the Care Act, and it seemed the government backed down and provided the funding once the court granted permission for the claim to proceed.

The legal route to achieve this is judicial review – and the essential point I want to make in this short talk is that legal aid is still available to bring judicial review challenges. If commissioners are becoming a ‘hard to reach group’, sending them a pre-action letter before a judicial review often gets their attention.

So what should disabled people, families and allies do if their rights aren’t being respected? There are lots of options – contact their MP, start a petition, chain themselves to the council railings. I’m not discounting any of these – but I would say that one of the first things to do is get specialist legal advice. If you search ‘rightsinreality solicitors’ you will get a list of some of the solicitors with disability expertise who have legal aid contracts and can advise disabled people and family members. There are issues about financial eligibility – having too much money to get legal aid – but it is always worth checking this out with a specialist solicitor, don’t just use the online calculator.

I’ve never known someone with a legal problem take advice too early, because a good solicitor will always say if there are other things to do than go to court. But I’ve known plenty of people take advice too late, when much of the damage caused when rights aren’t respected has already been done.

It’s also vital to remember that for every case that goes to court there will be a hundred if not hundreds that get set sorted out well before, with a better package of support.

At the same time we need to improve and strengthen the legal framework. That is the point of the #LBBill which has been crowdsourced by the incredible Justice for LB campaign, with disabled people, family members and allies across the country. It would:

  • make the right to independent living in Article 19 of the CRPD part of English law;
  • stop there being caps on the cost of care;
  • require the state to respect people’s wishes as to where they live;
  • ensure that there is enough community support available; and
  • sort out problems with the Mental Health Act and Mental Capacity Act.

Many of these ideas can be read in to the existing law – and we need to push back when people deny that these rights exist. It is vital, as Sally says, that we don’t pretend everything is ok.

But #LBBill would make everything clear and put the rights in one place. We will have another go at getting the Bill into Parliament when the ballot for private members’ bills happens next summer. We are also very encouraged that the Law Commission is considering some of our ideas in its new scheme for managing deprivations of liberty.

We are less encouraged by the Department’s recent response to the No right ignored consultation. Issuing guidance isn’t going to do the job.

I want to end on some striking research which was covered yesterday by the brilliant team at Community Care. It concerns the new right to advocacy under the Care Act 2014, which is absolutely essential if that Act is going to make any real difference to people’s lives. Yet we learn that advocacy referrals are ‘way below’ expected levels; Reading council expected to provide 4,000 hours of Care Act advocacy this year, yet six months in they’ve only provided 170 hours. And this is a council that says it is actively promoting the new right. So we have to keep pushing to make these rights real.

My final conclusion is this. It is unacceptable for Parliament to pass laws and the government to sign treaties creating new rights, and then for funding to be cut to make it impossible for local bodies to realise them. This is the challenge for the next few years – and I believe rising to that challenge means using the law to enforce the extensive rights disabled people now have. If we bring the cases to show the law isn’t being respected then the funding we need must follow – that’s what the rule of law requires.

If government wants to reduce support for disabled people they need to get Parliament to change the law and face the consequences at the next election. We can’t let them get away with doing it by stealth through ever increasing cuts to budgets.

*Ian Birrell and Gary Bourlet co-chaired the conference (brilliantly). Ian is a journalist and Gary is from People First England (and judging by the mood of the conference a future Labour leader)

** Dr Sara Ryan gave an earlier keynote talk challenging the term ‘independent living’ being applied to ‘state supported non-lives’

***Laura Broughton and Sally Warren from Paradigm gave an earlier talk challenging people not to pretend things are as good as they can be

**** Tom Noon, Chairman of Cordis Bright, spoke powerfully about the present realities in relation to both housing and support

No voice heard, all rights ignored?

The train to the Housing and Support Alliance annual conference on independent living and people with learning disabilities seems an appropriate time to set out some thoughts on the Government’s response to the No voice unheard, no right ignored green paper.

‘Not best pleased’ would be one way to summarise the reaction from ‘stakeholders’ (ugh) to the response. Another way would involve plenty of expletives. The title of this post, without the question mark, was the pithy summary from @socialworkops on Twitter.

To understand the frustration it’s important to remember the context for the Green Paper. The former Minister, Norman Lamb MP, had reached a view that all the concordats and agreements in the world were not going to be enough and that legislation was required to give new hard-edged legal rights. There was plenty of room to debate what those rights should be (I had my tuppence here) but the principle seemed clear – new legislation was needed.

However after the General Election Mr Lamb was no longer Minister and the new government seems rather less enthusiastic about legislating in this area. The response was delayed and when it finally arrived it could be summarised (fairly?) as ‘issue some guidance and kick the rest into the long grass’. Or in the language of the consultation, the proposals ‘should be seen as part of an ongoing and evolving dialogue’ (p6, para 7). Let us know when you’re ready to stop talking and actually do something.

Another part of the frustration, as Rob Grieg puts very well here, is that we’ve had very good strategies and guidance for learning disability for years in the form of Valuing People and Valuing People Now. We don’t need another strategy or more guidance, we need some real action to deliver these shared goals.

So does the response meet the two tests in its title? In terms of voices heard, Chris Hatton has done some excellent comparisons between the Valuing People Now consultation and this consultation. Chris shows that the Department has heard from far fewer disabled people this time round – which is unacceptable as government should be getting better over time at engaging with the people their policies affect, not worse. As Chris says, when properly analysed ‘The numbers of people responding to the NVUNRI consultation start to look perilously small’.

And on the second test – well, it’s pretty clear that the Minister’s vision of new hard-edged rights has been ignored. In legal terms, guidance can be very important. It all depends on its legal force – some guidance must be followed by decision makers in the absence of a considered decision that there is good reason not to do so, other guidance (‘have regard’ guidance) is just something that decision makers must take into account.

However it’s surprising (to put it mildly) that the Department doesn’t appear to know yet which laws it will use to issue the guidance here. See para 8, p6; ‘we will rapidly determine the most appropriate powers under which to act to have the best and strongest effect’. Again, let us know when you’ve made your mind up.

So whether the guidance is likely to be legally important depends on what the Department eventually decide in relation to the powers they will use to issue it. But what about its practical effect? Experience suggests that the likely fate of more guidance is to end up on more shelves. I’m not saying for a moment that if Parliament passes new laws they are automatically followed (hello, Care Act 2014) but the chances of cultural change must be must higher when there is new primarily legislation, not merely further guidance. Surely? Please let this be true or we are wasting a lot of money on those MPs…

Also, guidance cannot create new legal rights and duties – it can only reflect existing law. So if (as we are told at p14, para 41) there was ‘strong support for proposals about NHS commissioners sharing duties to promote individual wellbeing in the Care Act 2104 with local authorities’, why not get on and legislate for this now?

It is also concerning that even phase 1 of the proposals (which includes the new guidance) will take place ‘during the current financial year (2015/16) and into 2016/17’ (p9, para 15). So we may have to wait quite a while even to see the guidance. The grass for the guidance may not be long, but it could certainly use a trim.

There are some more interesting ideas in phase 2, including the named social worker proposal (*cough* funding *cough*) and the idea of extending Care and Treatment Review principles to local authority-led placements. However there is no timeframe for this phase. We are told at para 16, p9 that ‘This phase will involve further consultation with stakeholders, with any resulting legislation to be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows’. So not only will there be more consultation (why?), but the real mischief here is that there is no legislative slot allocated for any Bill in the Parliamentary timetable. Doesn’t look from this like there is any chance of new legislation until the end of next year at the earliest – hope I’m wrong.

Phase 3 is described as ‘more radical solutions’, however the summary only lists two:

  • ‘monitor implementation of the new service model for commissioners of health and social care services, and of CTRs on care planning, admissions, transfers and discharges and consider the need for further legislative proposals in response to review of impact’. I’ve read this three times and I’m still not sure I understand what it means.
  • ‘further consideration in principle of whether and how the Mental Health Act should apply to people with learning disabilities and/or autism and if this remains appropriate’. I know this is a controversial issue but surely the point of the Green Paper consultation was to allow the Department to reach a view on the principle here, subject to further consultation on the detail? As I read this it essentially means ‘no change’. Note also (p21, para 81) that ‘some stakeholders, especially individuals, their families and supporters, and the voluntary and community sector were keen on the principle that some sort of change was needed’ (emphasis added). No voice unheard?

So that’s the government response. I’d contrast it to the coherent package of new rights that we have set out in the second draft of #LBBill, with input from a wide range of disabled people, families, professionals and allies. Of course a key difference is that #LBBill is trying to improve the legal framework so disabled people can realise their right to independent living and community inclusion generally, and the Green Paper response is trying to fix one part of the problem for one specific group of disabled people (supposedly ‘the people who need most help’, see the response at p12, para 31). Even if I fundamentally disagree with the second approach, it is still terrible to see the opportunity to strengthen the rights of this group lost.

Two slivers of light:

  1. New guidance won’t necessarily be useless. It all depends what it says and even more importantly what statutory force it has. Let’s hope it is strong and clear guidance with the greatest possible legal force.
  2. The Law Commission are working up proposals for a new scheme to replace the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards which may yet result in legislation that contains some of the #LBBill ideas. Given the Department’s response, there’s now a huge amount riding on the Law Commission’s draft Bill due in 2016.

Other than that, looks like it’s back to the private members’ bill ballot for #LBBill in summer 2016.

I can’t let this piece end without highlighting something said in the Minister’s foreword to the response (p4). Towards the end of his piece, the Minister (Alistair Burt MP) says; ‘As a country, a key measure of our success will be how we care for the weakest and most vulnerable in our communities’. There are so many things wrong with this sentence it’s hard to know where to begin – so I’ll just suggest that if anything makes people with learning disabilities ‘weak’ and ‘vulnerable’ it’s government policies and state actions, from cutting social security and legal aid to detaining people without lawful authority. It’s hard to see how any real change can come from a position where disabled people are perceived as weak and vulnerable victims needing to be saved.

In defence of Article 5 and the right to liberty – North Yorks CC v MAG

This post is about a judgment of the Court of Protection which shows the continued force of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights in protecting disabled people’s fundamental rights.

Article 5 protects the right to liberty. As most people reading this blog will be aware, the Supreme Court handed down a judgment known as ‘Cheshire West’ last year which made clear that disabled people have the same right to liberty as the rest of the population. As a result, if a person is subject to continuous supervision and control and is not free to leave their accommodation, there will be a deprivation of liberty which has to be approved and justified to avoid a breach of Article 5.

The problem comes with the tortuous way the relevant authorities have decided to manage the requirement to approve deprivations of liberty for disabled people. For example the ‘deprivation of liberty safeguards’ (DoLS) are almost universally disliked. The recent Law Commission consultation on a new system said there was a ‘compelling case’ for replacing them, not least because they are ‘perceived to be overly technical and legalised’ and ‘not meaningful for disabled people and their families or carers’ (para 2.41).

One of the most welcome aspects of the Law Commission’s proposals for a replacement system is the focus on disabled people’s wider human rights, in particular the rights protected by Article 8 ECHR – the right to respect for private life, family life and the home. Article 8 is the space where considerations of vital issues like human dignity often come into play. However Article 8 is a ‘qualified’ right – which means that considerations like the financial resources of the state are relevant when the courts consider how far public bodies have to go to make Article 8 rights real. This is a major reason why Mrs McDonald’s challenge to the decision that her nighttime care should be replaced with incontinence pads failed in the European Court of Human Rights – once the local authority got the process right and completed the required reassessment, the court was not prepared to find a breach of Article 8 because it is generally up to the state how public funds are allocated.

Article 5 ECHR is different however. The right to liberty is absolute – it can only be interfered with for the reasons set out in Article 5. The state is not entitled to deprive a person of their liberty simply because it would cost less than to meet their needs in a less restrictive way.

The difference this makes is played out in North Yorkshire County Council v MAG and others [2015] EWCOP 64, a judgment handed down this summer (13 July 2015). The issue in the case was whether the Court of Protection should authorise the deprivation of liberty which resulted from the care arrangements for a 34 year old severely disabled man, MAG. The judgment makes clear that:

  • MAG had been in his accommodation for around 9 years, since 2006
  • The property was too small for him to use his wheelchair indoors, so he had to move around by crawling and pulling himself along the floor
  • Because the property only had one bedroom it was too small for sleep-in staff, who would have been less intrusive for MAG
  • The property had no outside space, so when MAG was not taken out he was confined indoors

The local authority appears to have accepted that a move would be desirable for MAG (see para 16 of the judgment), but the Judge characterised its case as follows (para 12): ‘this case has been before the court for four years during which time it has been required by the Official Solicitor to identify alternative options which it says its search has proved are simply not available’. On this basis the local authority sought final declarations, including approval of the resulting deprivation of liberty for MAG.

Importantly in my view, the Judge visited MAG in the property. His findings from the visit were recorded at para 20 of the judgment:

20 The problem is that MAG’s flat, at which I visited him on 20 February 2015, is so small that his wheelchair cannot be used indoors. The corridor leading from the bedroom to the lounge and kitchen is too narrow to move a wheelchair into those rooms. He moves around the flat on his bottom and using his hands and knees. This has resulted in him sustaining painful bursitis in both knees and he has calluses to his knees and ankles. Ms Hutchinson [learning disability nurse and best interests assessor] advised that MAG’s current property does not meet his needs and that he should be able to live in a property which ensures he can live a life with dignity and comfort and which does not cause him physical or emotional harm.

Also importantly, MAG’s living arrangements were ‘supported living’, which falls outside the scope of the DoLS. As such, the only way the local authority could avoid a breach of Article 5 was to have the deprivation of liberty authorised by the Court of Protection, see para 21.

The local authority’s position was clearly set out at paras 22-23 of the judgment:

22 NYCC accepts that the current placement involves a deprivation of liberty and that there is no immediate alternative residential option. It seeks the authorisation of the court for MAG’s continued deprivation of liberty on the basis that it is justified as a result of his condition which renders the restrictions proportionate and necessary. NYCC says that the issues raised by the expert, Christine Hutchinson, and the Official Solicitor relate to whether the outcome could be achieved in a less restrictive manner but that there are no less restrictive options available. Where it has been possible to make adjustments to achieve a less restrictive outcome, such as time spent in the community, this has been done.

23 NYCC says that on the basis that the position is clear and the court does not have the jurisdiction to require it to find another property which would not ordinarily be available to MAG, all steps that he could take if he did not lack capacity, have been taken by it. The accommodation at the Tenancy and his care package which mean that he is not permitted to leave unaccompanied and is under continuous supervision and control, have the effect of depriving MAG of his liberty. The outcome cannot be achieved in a less restrictive way and the restrictions in place are necessary and proportionate. On that basis the deprivation of liberty should be authorised by the court.

So the local authority’s case was clear – there’s nothing else available, so the Court should authorise MAG being deprived of his liberty in his accommodation notwithstanding its flaws.

The Official Solicitor, representing MAG, did not accept this. His first argument was recorded by the Judge as follows (para 28): ‘The Official Solicitor makes the point that the reference in Re MN to the ability of the Court of Protection to explore the care plan put forward by a public authority and the inability of the Court to compel a public authority to agree to a care plan which it is not willing to implement does not apply when the issue is the right to liberty under Article 5. I accept that analysis.’

This is really important – because the general rule (being confirmed by the Court of Appeal in Re MN) is that the Court of Protection cannot require a public authority to act in a particular way. The Judge here accepted the Official Solicitor’s submission that this rule does not apply when what is at stake is the right to liberty under Article 5.

The Official Solicitor’s position was that the ‘narrow corridors, lack of outdoor space, lack of privacy and lack of a wheelchair (when his needed repair and no replacement was made available) amount to a disproportionate deprivation of liberty in this case’ (para 33).

The Judge made two important findings at paras 35-36:

35 I accept the Official Solicitor’s submission that the authorities in this case were not willing to initiate a search for alternative accommodation unless and until the Court decided that it was in MAG’s best interests to move in spite of the fact that the Commissioners had decided in 2013 that it was in his best interests to move to a less restrictive environment.

36 I accept that there was culpable delay on the part of NYCC in finding a less restrictive property…

The Judge’s final decision was relatively short and for ease of reference I set it out in full below:

Decision
37 On behalf of MAG the Official Solicitor outlines the decision I have to make as being whether the interim authorisation ought to be continued in light of what he characterises as the overly restrictive intensity of MAG’s deprivation of liberty. NYCC and the CCG require the authority of the Court lawfully to deprive MAG of his liberty in order to act compatibly with Article 5. There is no dispute that there is a deprivation of liberty in this case.

38 I accept the Official Solicitor’s submission that the central issue is not whether MAG’s confinement is properly justified by the fact that no alternative accommodation is available. It is whether, as set out in the closing submissions on behalf of MAG, ‘…the persistence of his unsoundness of mind justifies the validity of his continued deprivation of liberty: Re X [2014]
EWCOP 25 , para 14; KC v Poland (Application no. 31199/12), para 70. In this regard it is crucial to note the Strasbourg Court’s view in Stanev v Bulgaria (2012) 55 EHRR 22 para 153:“… the objective need for accommodation and social assistance must not automatically lead to the imposition of measures involving deprivation of liberty.”’

39 I accept the submission on behalf of MAG that it is the authority’s failure in its attitude towards the search for less restrictive accommodation which has caused significant delay and lengthened these proceedings. I am urged by the Official Solicitor not to authorise this deprivation of liberty because it is unwarranted because the intensity of the measures and in particular those which result from the environmental features of the property are not justified and proportionate. MAG
has remained at the Tenancy for nine years and been subject to a deprivation of liberty there. He has no choice but to mobilise on his hands and knees which has caused physical problems including Bursitis and a recurring fungal infection in his thigh. He does not have access to suitable outdoor space and sleeping night support is not possible in the absence of a second bedroom. The only private space he has is his own bedroom.

40 On behalf of the CCG I am urged not to refuse the authorisation on the basis that if I do so there will be a lack of clarity about MAG’s position and that of NYCC in relation to its property search. In response it is argued on behalf of MAG that not to continue the interim authorisation will result in a substantive breach of Article 5 which will ensure that proactive steps are taken by the statutory authorities to locate a less restrictive living environment.

41 I have considered the submissions of the parties and in this case I have the benefit of having seen MAG at the Tenancy. As I have indicated already, I accept the submissions of the Official Solicitor in relation to the issues with the current accommodation and on that basis I consider that I cannot endorse a care regime which risks breaching MAG’s right to liberty. This may be all that is available at present but I am not satisfied that NYCC has taken the steps necessary to ensure
that there is no breach of its obligations. I am aware of the steps which have been taken recently. However, MAG’s needs were identified by the assessment in 2006. It is clear that the Tenancy does not meet those needs and that should have been clear when the property was identified by GC in 2006. In 2013 the Commissioners accepted a move would be in MAG’s best interests and would be less restrictive. This is a question of MAG’s liberty and I do not accept that I can
authorise the deprivation of that liberty on the basis that nothing else is available. He has been in this unsatisfactory situation for a prolonged period. NYCC has been extremely slow to accept its responsibilities in relation to rehousing him. These proceedings started in 2011 and it was not until 2 August 2013 that it accepted it owed a duty in this respect.

42 Refusing the authorisation sought means that NYCC must take the steps necessary to ensure that there is no breach. In all the circumstances, I am not satisfied that I should make the declaration sought by the local authority and I will not authorise the deprivation of liberty in its current form.

Some observations:

  1. The Judge (in my view correctly) highlighted what was said in the Stanev case, that ‘the objective need for accommodation and social assistance must not automatically lead to the imposition of measures involving deprivation of liberty’.
  2. As such the real issue was not, as the local authority (and CCG) said, the fact that there was nothing else available. The issue was whether the deprivation of liberty caused by MAG’s living arrangements could be justified.
  3. The ‘failure’ in the local authority’s ‘attitude’ in searching for less restrictive accommodation was clearly central to the Judge’s decision – see para 39.
  4. The Official Solicitor expressly argued that the effect of the Court refusing to authorise the deprivation of liberty would be to ‘ensure that proactive steps are taken by the statutory authorities to locate a less restrictive living environment’ – in other words to force them to move MAG as quickly as possible to bring the breach of Article 5 to an end (see para 40).
  5. The Judge’s ultimate conclusion (para 41) was as follows: ‘I consider that I cannot endorse a care regime which risks breaching MAG’s right to liberty. This may be all that is available at present but I am not satisfied that NYCC has taken the steps necessary to ensure that there is no breach of its obligations.’
  6. The Judge agreed with the Official Solicitor (para 42) that ‘Refusing the authorisation sought means that NYCC must take the steps necessary to ensure that there is no breach’.

In my view the approach of the Court in this case is not without its problems. Giving such weight to the local authority’s failure to move MAG raises the question of how much effort is required before the Court would authorise a deprivation of liberty in arrangements which were less than suitable for the disabled person.

However what this case does is show that Article 5 offers real protections for disabled people, the effect of which can go beyond the qualified requirements of Article 8. It is important that whatever new scheme ultimately replaces the DoLS recognises this – something that no doubt the Law Commission have well in mind.

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