Court of Protection rules in favour of the family for a change!
Alas, more often than not we hear of horror stories of Councils’ heavy handedness in taking control over frail and vulnerable adults, so it’s a refreshing change when you read – at last – that the Court of Protection has ruled in favour of the individual!
It was reported in the Guardian today that Manuela Sykes, who is 89 years of age and suffers from dementia, was allowed to return home against her Council’s wishes. Ms Sykes was a member of Westminster City Council and also stood for parliament for over 40 years. Her misfortune of suffering dementia in her later years put her into the difficult situation of having to take her case to the Court of Protection when she was put into a care home but she wished to move back into her own flat. There was no suggestion that Ms Sykes was ill treated in any way at the care home that she was placed in, however, she was said to be “miserable” and wanted to return home to her own flat.
Instead of putting in place a care package that would have allowed her to live at home safely, social services at Westminster City Council instead fought against her, citing it was not in her interests to go back home. In the Court of Protection, District Judge Eldergill ruled in favour of Ms Sykes concluding that all viable alternatives should be explored before the Council made a final decision, and that she should be returned home on a one month trial basis with a home care package. This case was particularly unusual in that Court of Protection cases are rarely reported, but it does highlight that there are growing concerns that councils are exerting more, and unnecessary, pressure to put people in care homes and taking control of their finances.
Only last year we heard the sad story of Wanda Maddocks who was secretly jailed by the Court of Protection for contempt of court for taking her father out of a care home which he was put in against his wishes by social workers. It was said that he had been neglected and ill treated at the care home. He passed away shortly after he was returned to the care home. This sadly illustrates what a family would be up against if in their opinion their loved one was not properly taken care of in a care home or if – God forbid – they wanted to move their loved ones to a place of their choice, but which is against the opinions of the social services / council. Following this case, the Lord Chief Justice, sent out urgent guidelines to Judges stressing that any applications for committals for contempt should be heard and decided in open court. In circumstances where the Judge exercises his/her discretion to sit in private, the Judge should give a judgment in public setting out the reasons for doing so before continuing with the hearing in private. The guidance also provides that the Court of Protection may adjudicate in private but must announce in public the name of the person who has been jailed in contempt and in general terms the nature of the contempt to which the order was made.
The ‘Sykes’ case is clearly a step in the right direction for many families who may feel under pressure by their council against a placement which is not suitable for their loved ones. Fighting a large government body can be daunting, so it’s nice to know that there is support available, and solutions to help their fight. Those of us who specialise in this area of law know how important these reported cases are for many families in this sad situation.