The Court of Protection exists to safeguard the interests of people who may be unable to look after themselves fully or make decisions on their own behalf.
Sometimes the court may defend them against individuals seeking to exploit them, but it can also protect them against the heavy handed actions of official bodies, as illustrated in a recent case.
It involved a 91-year-old man who suffered from dementia. He cannot be named for legal reasons and was referred to only as P. He lived alone but with outside help, he was able to cope and could look after his cat. In May 2013, he was taken from his home against his will by officials from Essex County Council.
He was taken to a locked dementia unit of a residential home and was kept there for 17 months. He was also forced to pay care home fees.
He was only released when a friend realised his plight and raised his case with the Court of Protection.
The council said it had acted in P’s best interests because he was suffering from dementia. It believed the care home was the best place for him, an opinion backed by his niece and nephew.
However, Judge Paul Mort, who heard the case, said the council had behaved reprehensibly.
He said: “It failed to recognise the weakness of its case and the strength of the case against it. It had maintained its resolute opposition to P returning to his home until the last possible moment. The conduct of Essex County Council has been reprehensible.
“Despite the assessments concluding that P did have the capacity to make decisions regarding his residence, and the recommendations that it was in his best interests to return home, it did nothing.”
“P was 90 when he was unlawfully removed from his home. The deprivation of his liberty during this late stage of his life only serves to compound its poignancy.
“It is hard to imagine a more depressing and inexcusable state of affairs. A defenceless 91-year-old gentleman in the final years of his life was removed from his home of 50 years and detained in a locked dementia unit against his wishes.
“Had it not been for the alarm raised by his friend he may have been condemned to remain there for the remainder of his days.”
The council admitted breaching P’s rights to liberty and security under the European Convention on Human Rights.
P was awarded £60,000 compensation and the court ordered that the council should waive his care home fees of £25,000. He is now said to be flourishing under new home care arrangements.
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